Veteran Hollywood actor Sean Connery made his name in the 1960s through his dazzling performances as everyone’s favourite intelligence agent, James Bond. Before his passing in October 2020, the Scottish actor won an Academy Award (for his performance in The Untouchables), two BAFTA Awards, and three Golden Globes – a hugely impressive feat.
With a career spanning five decades, Connery has gone down as one of the best actors to come out of the 20th century, and he will doubtless be remembered a true icon of cinema. Here are some interesting facts about the original, dashing superspy.
20. He almost died filming the helicopter scene in From Russia with Love
Connery’s Bond films are known for being action-packed – but it’s easy to forget that they were made before the advent of CGI and modern visual effects.
Many of the stunts filmed were extremely dangerous – and one even put Connery’s life in danger.
Connery did his own stunts in the film’s iconic helicopter scene – however, this nearly went badly wrong.
The pilot flying the helicopter was lacking in experience and flew extremely close to Connery, endangering his life in the process.
Thankfully, Connery was unscathed by the incident, but others filming stunt scenes for the film weren’t quite so lucky.
Three stuntmen were injured while shooting the same scene, and Connery’s co-star Walter Gotell was badly burned by a fire that got out of control.
19. He wore a wig in every Bond film
Shockingly, Connery started losing his hair at the young age of 21. By the time he was in his early 30s, he was noticeably balding.
As a result of this, when he was cast for Dr No he was required to wear a hairpiece.
The toupee is so seamlessly blended with Connery’s remaining hair that you can barely notice it on-screen.
Some critics have since expressed their disappointment at the fact that Connery wasn’t allowed to remain bald in the role.
Writing in The Guardian in 2007, John Patterson lamented “what a difference it might have made for baldies the world over.”
“Wouldn’t it have been nice if the most visible male sex symbol alive had saved the world from Goldfinger while sporting a gleaming chrome-dome?”
18. He donated his record-breaking fee for Diamonds Are Forever to charity
In 1991, Connery was cast in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves as King Richard the Lionheart.
He was paid $250,000 for this role and donated all of his earnings to charity.
Generous Connery also didn’t shy away from donating more substantial sums of money to charity.
The biggest donation he ever made was done in the wake of the 1971 Bond movie Diamonds are Forever.
The Scottish actor gave away the entirety of his $1.2 million salary from this role to charity.
He donated the sum to Scottish International Education Trust, a charity he founded to help deprived children.
17. He narrowly escaped being attacked by a shark while filming Thunderball
As any sane person would be, Connery was wary of swimming with live sharks for a scene in fourth Bond film, Thunderball.
Production designer Ken Adam constructed an underwater partition made of Plexiglas to keep the actor safe.
But the partition was seriously flawed and had a four foot gap which was big enough for a shark to get through.
Sure enough, one shark did get through the gap, leaving Connery with just enough time to escape the pool.
Adam recounted the matter in The Guardian in 2005: “Connery came close to being bitten. We had a plexiglass corridor to protect him, but I didn’t have quite enough plexiglass.”
“One of the sharks got through,” Adam continues, adding: “He never got out of a pool faster in his life.”
16. His family was so poor that he slept in the bottom drawer of his parents’ dresser as a baby
Connery never made a secret of the fact that he grew up in poverty.
Connery’s family was so poor that, as a baby, the future star had no crib and had to sleep in the bottom drawer of his parents’ dresser.
His father, Joe, worked in the local rubber factory, but the economic troubles of the 1930s meant that he was often left without work.
Connery’s mother, Effie, instilled a solid work ethic into her two sons and taught them both the value of perseverance.
Connery started working to help support the family at the young age of nine, when he began his job as a milkman.
As an adolescent, he also worked in a butcher’s to earn extra cash for his family.
15. He was advised to lose his Scottish accent early in his career
Connery landed his first acting job in 1954 with the popular stage musical South Pacific.
It quickly became apparent that Connery had an abundance of talent when it came to acting.
But early in rehearsals, Connery was pulled aside and dealt a blunt comment about his accent.
The budding actor was strongly advised by the play’s director to tone down his thick Scottish accent so that people could understand him better.
The director also warned Connery that his heavy accent could act as a barrier to a potentially fruitful acting career and future success.
Connery may have changed up his accent slightly for different roles – Bond included – but he quickly became famed and even sought after for his distinctive Scottish growl.
14. Bond author Ian Fleming called Connery “an overgrown stuntman”
Bond creator Fleming was not happy with the choice of actor for the leading man in the first Bond film, Dr No.
He reportedly said of Connery: “I’m looking for Commander Bond and not an overgrown stuntman.”
Fleming’s first choice of actor to play 007 was actually Cary Grant, but as he was 58 he only wanted to commit to doing a standalone film, not the franchise Bond was expected to – and did – become.
Connery was younger and more flexible, and so Fleming had to settle for the Scottish actor despite his misgivings.
Fleming came around after the successful premiere of Dr No – Connery was a hit and proved extremely popular among fans and critics alike.
He was so impressed with Connery’s performance that he even wrote in Scottish heritage for Bond in later novels.
13. He turned down an offer to play Gandalf in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings because he couldn’t understand the story
Connery turned down the role of Gandalf in hit franchise Lord of the Rings simply because he didn’t understand the script.
Producers were desperate to get Connery on board, however, and pulled out all the stops to get the Scottish actor to sign up for the film.
But despite being offered a $10 million salary and 15% of the box office profits, Connery wasn’t interested.
According to Looper, the film series’ total earnings total a staggering $5.9 billion – meaning Connery missed out on a serious amount of money.
Speaking in 2012, Connery said of the part: “I never understood it. I read the book. I read the script. I saw the movie. I still don’t understand it.”
“Ian McKellen, I believe, is marvellous in it.” We have to agree with Connery here – McKellen really is perfect for playing Tolkien’s wizened wizard.
12. Michael Caine was one of Connery’s best friends
Connery always regarded Hollywood veteran Michael Caine as one of his closest and longest friends.
The two first met in 1954 at a party for the King’s Theatre production of South Pacific. The duo’s friendship endured and spanned more than six decades.
Caine has said in the past that his friendship with Connery arose after they found common ground with their working-class upbringings.
Later both of them later co-starred in films like The Man Who Would Be King and A Bridge Too Far.
Caine paid tribute to his late friend with a nod to The Man Who Would Be King, writing on Twitter: “The Man Who Would Be King was THE KING.”
Caine also called Connery “a great star, brilliant actor, and wonderful friend” in his heartfelt message.
11. He once got into a fight with six members of a notorious Edinburgh street gang – and won
Before Connery graced our screens as Bond, he experienced a scary encounter with some members of Edinburgh’s Valdor Gang.
The Valdor Gang was one of the most vicious street gangs around in 1950s Edinburgh.
One evening, while Connery was out playing billiards, he was approached by some members of the gang.
The gang wanted to get their hands on Connery’s smart leather jacket, and demanded that he hand it over.
When Connery refused the gang started attacking him – Connery tried to diffuse the situation by walking away, but he found himself pursued.
Despite being outnumbered six to one, Connery singlehandedly fought off all of the assailants and earned the gang’s respect for his bravery and strength.
10. He got his first job at 13 as a milkman
Before Connery hit the big-time as James Bond, he worked as a milkman in Edinburgh.
Working as a milkman was Connery’s first job after he left school at the young age of 13.
Coincidentally, Fettes School was on his milk run – the same school that Bond attends after being expelled from Eton.
Connery recently revealed that once when he was back in Edinburgh for the city’s Film Festival, he impressed a taxi driver with his ability to name every street they drove past.
The driver asked how he knew the roads so well, prompting Connery to explain that he used to be a milkman.
The cabbie then asked: “what do you do now?” Connery said that question was “harder to answer.”
9. He had a ‘Scotland Forever’ tattoo from his time in the Royal Navy
Like Bond, Connery served in the Royal Navy. He joined up when he was just 16.
He promptly got a tattoo reading ‘Scotland Forever’ on his shoulder to mark the occasion.
You’d struggle to see the tattoo in any Bond films, as it was covered with heavy makeup during shooting.
Connery may have never graced the silver screen if it wasn’t for a serendipitous illness cutting his naval career short.
A duodenal ulcer meant that Connery had to be discharged from the Navy on medical grounds.
The disability pension he received while on leave helped him financially as he began to find acting work.
8. Sean wasn’t actually his first name
It may surprise some people to learn that Sean Connery’s first name wasn’t actually Sean.
The late actor’s full name was Thomas Sean Connery, and he was known as Tommy in his youth.
As he grew into his trademark burly figure, Connery took on the nickname ‘Big Tam’ in his adolescence.
However, Connery began to go by ‘Sean’ long before he became an actor – and there’s a rather sweet reason behind it.
Connery once explained that he went by ‘Sean’ as a boy because he had an Irish friend named Seamus.
Those who knew them both decided to call Tommy by his middle name whenever he was with Seamus due to the similar-sounding names. It stuck, and Connery went with it.
7. Steven Seagal broke Connery’s wrist during the making of Never Say Never Again
Connery held a black belt in karate and was renowned for giving his all when it came to choreographing fights for Bond films.
While working on Never Say Never Again in 1983, the film’s fight choreographer Steven Seagal helped Connery brush up on his martial arts skills.
Speaking to Jay Leno in 1996, Connery explained how Seagal ended up breaking his wrist as they worked together.
“I got hold of Steven and we had this training in the building where I had an apartment and he was really very, very good and everything,” he explained.
“And I got a little cocky because I thought I knew what I was doing because the principle is: it’s defence, so it’s a pyramid and I got a bit flash.”
Connery then demonstrated how one bad move on his part resulted in Seagal inadvertently breaking his wrist.
6. He was voted the greatest Bond of all time in 2020
A 2020 poll saw Connery voted as the greatest Bond of all time as he triumphed over the other six actors to have portrayed the suave spy.
The Scottish actor became the first person to portray Ian Fleming‘s iconic spy on the big screen in 1962 film Dr No.
Connery emerged as the winner after seeing off his competition in a multi-round online poll conducted by The Radio Times.
He amassed 42% of the final vote, beating Timothy Dalton, who placed second, and Pierce Brosnan in third.
Surprisingly, the two longest-serving Bonds, Daniel Craig and Sir Roger Moore, were eliminated in earlier rounds.
With his “panther-like” persona and sheer talent, it’s safe to say that Connery is truly the best Bond ever.
5. Connery was once stopped for speeding by a policeman named Sgt James Bond
It’s hard to imagine Connery, who became so closely associated with Bond’s dazzling and glamorous persona, doing something as mundane as getting pulled over for a speeding ticket.
But in October 1967, Connery was indeed pulled over and given a £15 speeding ticket in London.
What makes the incident all the more remarkable, however, is that the policeman’s name was quite fitting for this exact occasion..
It turns out that the policeman who gave Connery the ticket was called Bond – James Bond.
Sgt Bond told reporters at the time: “It’s unfortunate, but I was just born with this name and there’s nothing I can do about it.”
Sgt Bond must have been pleased Connery didn’t hand over his registration and licence to kill!
4. Sir Matt Busby offered Connery a contract at Manchester United in the early 1950s, but he turned it down
Before Connery made a name for himself as an actor, he was scouted by none other than Sir Matt Busby for his football talents.
The James Bond star impressed Busby so much during a practice game that he was asked to join the Manchester United team.
Connery turned down the offer as he felt he was too old at 23 to begin a career in professional sport.
He also felt that a football career would not be as long-lasting as a potential acting career.
“I really wanted to accept because I loved football,” Connery is quoted as saying in a recent tweet from FIFA.
“I decided to become an actor and it turned out to be one of my more intelligent moves,” Connery said, wrly reflecting on the life-changing decision.
3. He was once threatened at gunpoint by co-star Lana Turner’s mobster boyfriend
In 1958 – pre-Bond – Connery was working on the movie Another Time, Another Place with actress Lana Turner.
Turner’s boyfriend, Johnny Stompanato, was involved in the world of organised crime and worked as a bodyguard for notorious gangster Mickey Cohen.
When false rumours began to circulate of Connery and Turner having an affair, Stompanato flew to London to challenge Connery himself.
Stompanato burst onto the set and threatened the Scottish actor with a gun – but Connery wasn’t fazed.
An accomplished bodybuilder and karate black belt, Connery easily defended himself and wrested the gun from Stompanato, who was deported from the UK shortly thereafter.
Stompanato was eventually killed by Turner’s daughter, who acted in self-defense when she saw Stompanato threatening her mother.
2. Connery got hired to play Bond because the producer’s wife said he “moved like a panther”
Connery has Dana Broccoli, wife of producer Cubby Broccoli, to thank for landing him his iconic role as Bond.
While Cubby was undecided about which actor to cast as Bond, his wife knew instantly which man would be best.
“He moves like a panther,” Mrs Broccoli told her husband after Connery left his first audition. It was a shrewd observation.
Connery’s Bond is certainly sleek but strong, playful but powerful, graceful yet gutsy – exactly like a panther.
It was Connery’s “panther-like” quality which bagged him the leading role in six of the most enduring Bond films of all time.
His suave but sturdy figure, combined with his raw talent, went on to cement his legacy as one of Hollywood’s most bankable faces.
1. He used to babysit for British journalist Peter Noble and actress Marianne Stone
Connery managed to get some work in the 1950s helping out backstage and occasionally appearing onstage in regional theatres across England and Scotland.
But while this was a promising start to his acting career, he struggled to make ends meet and had to look for part-time work elsewhere.
He took up working as a babysitter for journalist Peter Noble and his actress wife Marianne Stone.
This job earned him 10 shillings a night – a far cry from the figures he’d one day earn from acting.
It wasn’t Connery’s only unorthodox job – pre-stardom, he worked as a lifeguard, a truck driver, a coffin polisher, and a male model.
Connery was essentially a jack of all trades – but he was certainly a master of acting.