Sean Connery left school at 15 and escaped a poor Edinburgh background, first by joining the British Navy and, later on, the stage (in the London chorus of South Pacific, 1951) and 1950s movies in which he characteristically played low-lifers.
Dr No (d. Terence Young, 1962) changed all that: "Sean Connery is James Bond", the publicity announced, and the world's box-offices couldn't have been more pleased. Nearly 40 years later, he remains the most popular incarnation of Ian Fleming's snobbish macho hero, though Fleming did not originally approve the casting. Dressed in a tuxedo while mixing martinis, pummelling villains with pretensions to international domination, and romancing a string of nubile young women, of whom only Honor Blackman was a match for him, he became Britain's most successful film star - and export.
The working-class villains he played in early movies like The Frightened City (d. John Lemont, 1961) no doubt feed into the ferocity one often feels to be lurking beneath the suave Bondian surface. He played Bond half a dozen times before surrendering the role, returning in 1983 in the aptly named Never Say Never Again (UK/US, d. Irvin Kershner). "I don't want to be Bond all the time", he said, and his feuding with Bond producer, Cubby Broccoli, no doubt strengthened his resolve to put Bond behind him.
The Bond films shouldn't be allowed to obscure the range of his abilities. Not only did he become one of the world's most bankable stars, but also one of its best actors. Not, it must be added, mainly in his British films, though some of these have real merits: the romantic melodrama, Woman of Straw (d. Basil Dearden, 1964); two for Sidney Lumet - the gripping war film, The Hill (1965) and The Offence (1972), in which he plays an obsessive cop; and the heist thriller, The First Great Train Robbery (d. Michael Crichton, 1978).
In the US, Hitchcock's Marnie (1964) and three mid-70s titles warrant special mention: The Man Who Would Be King (d. John Huston, 1975) and the romantic adventure, The Wind and the Lion (d. John Milius, 1975), and the elegiac Robin and Marian (d. Richard Lester, 1976), perhaps his most moving work on film.
His 1990s films, on several of which he is also executive producer, and full producer on Entrapment (d. Jon Amiel, 1999), are all of US origin, as was The Untouchables (US, d. Brian De Palma, 1987) for which he won a best supporting actor Oscar. He won a BAFTA award for The Name of the Rose (France/West Germany/Italy, d. Jean-Jacques Annaud, 1986). If the Bond films won him an international following, it was these others which won him critical respect.
He has been a vocal supporter of Scottish nationalism, which, it was alleged, cost him a knighthood in 1998. This omission was made good in the 2000 New Year honours.
His first marriage (1962-73) was to actress Diane Cilento, and their actor son, Jason Connery played Ian Fleming, James Bond's creator, in the telemovie Spymaker: The Secret Life of Ian Fleming (UK/US, d. Ferdinand Fairfax, 1990). He has lived in Spain for many years with his second wife, artist Micheline Roquebrune.
Biography: Sean Connery by Michael Feeney Callan (1993)
Brian McFarlane, Encyclopedia of British Cinema