This week, Sir Sean Connery has been voted the greatest Bond of all time – as if there were ever any doubts. To mark his victory and his upcoming 90th birthday on August 25, we’re making him our British Icon of the Week and rounding up some things you might not know about the s(h)eriously charismatic Scotsman.
1. He was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II for services to drama in 2000 – but only after two previous attempts to make him “Sir Sean” had reportedly been vetoed by the British government.
According to the BBC, attempts to bestow a knighthood on Connery in 1997 and 1998 were blocked because of his very vocal support for the Scottish National Party, which advocates for an independent Scotland outside of the United Kingdom. Connery has always been enormously proud of his Scottish heritage and donated his £1 million fee for the 1971 Bond movie Diamonds Are Forever to the The Scottish International Education Trust, a learning-focused nonprofit which he co-founded.
Connery described being knighted as “one of the proudest days of my life” and a “great honor for Scotland.”
2. Early in his career, he was advised to ditch his distinctive Scottish accent – but wisely refused.
Director Alvin Rakoff, who cast Connery as a washed-up boxer in the 1957 TV drama Requiem for a Heavyweight, admitted in 2014 that he was wrong to tell Connery that his accent could hold back his career.
“I first met Sean Connery as a jobbing actor in his mid-20s. He had the looks and was a very likable young man who would do anything for you, but I couldn’t see him as a star in the making,” Rakoff told The Scotsman. “He’d been a walk-on for me and others in many live TV dramas in the mid-1950s, but we steered clear of giving him roles with much dialogue because of his accent. It was a thick Scottish brogue and we felt it wouldn’t work well with the productions we were making. In fact, we thought it would be off-putting and distracting, and difficult for viewers to understand. How wrong we all were.”
3. He put in a stint as a professional bodybuilder.
According to his official website, Connery competed to become Mr. Universe in 1950, and came a very credible third. There’s some discrepancy over the facts, though, with other sources saying he competed in the “tall” category three years later, or that he came third in the junior class. Whatever the exact truth, there’s no doubting he did pretty darn well.
4. It’s well known that he worked as a milkman before he became famous, but this wasn’t Connery’s only pre-fame job.
Connery also spent three years serving in the Royal Navy and worked as a laborer, a lifeguard at an Edinburgh swimming baths, an artist’s model for the Edinburgh College of Art, and a coffin polisher. In 2011, a nude painting of Connery by artist Rab Webster went on display at the Halliwell’s House Museum in Selkirk, Scotland.
The artist’s family told the BBC that Webster had recalled painting the future superstar, saying: “He said Connery treated it just as a job and that he didn’t say very much.”
5. Connery could also have been a professional soccer player.
In 1953, Connery was appearing in a touring stage show that called in at Manchester. When he and some cast mates cast took part in a friendly soccer match against a local team, Connery’s physicality impressed Manchester United’s manager, Sir Matt Busby, who was scouting for new talent and offered him a contract on the spot. Connery politely declined and recalled later: “I realized that a top-class footballer could be over the hill by the age of 30, and I was already 23. I decided to become an actor and it turned out to be one of my more intelligent moves.”
6. His Oscar acceptance speech was delightfully dry.
Connery won Best Supporting Actor in 1988 for his performance in The Untouchables as an Irish-American police officer seeking to take down Al Capone. “Patience truly is a virtue,” he told the audience. “But in winning this award it creates a certain dilemma, because I had decided if I had the good fortune to win that I would give it to my wife, who deserves it. But this evening I discovered backstage that they’re worth fifteen thousand dollars… and now I’m not so sure. Cherie, I’m only kidding, it’s yours.”
7. He donated his entire fee from 1991’s Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves to charity.
According to Metro, he was paid a suitably regal sum of $250,000 for his cameo as King Richard, a role which required just two days work.
8. He officially confirmed his retirement from acting in 2006.
The previous year, he told the BBC that he would need “a Mafia-like offer I couldn’t refuse” to make another movie. He also revealed that he’d turned down the chance to play Gandalf in Lord of the Rings because he “didn’t understand it.” For the same reason, he turned down an offer to play Architect in the two sequels to The Matrix, a role which eventually went to Helmut Bakaitis.
9. He’s great friends with Sir Michael Caine – but Caine won’t play golf with him any more.
Explaining why, Caine wrote in his 2010 memoir The Elephant To Hollywood: “Sean has a terrible temper and when he tried to teach me golf he was so incensed by my performance that he grabbed my club and broke it in two.”
10. He really rates Daniel Craig’s take on Bond.
In a 2008 interview for U.K. arts program The South Bank Show, Connery called Craig’s performance as 007 “marvelous” and said “the danger element [of the role] – he really gets it.” He’s rather less enamored with the campier Roger Moore-led Bond films of the ’70s and ’80s, saying they would “go for the laugh and the humor at whatever the cost [to] the credibility.”
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