The word “disaster” is based on Latin. “Dis” for death, and “aster” for star. Disaster – the death of a star.
Today, we mark such a death.
I still remember my older brother Jim coming home thoroughly excited after seeing a cool new movie, Dr. No, at a local theater.
He told me all about this amazing guy, James Bond, Agent 007, who was different from other heroic characters. This guy was smart, and used anything and everything around him to battle bad guys.
He could also be ruthless and cold-blooded.
Of course, I was enthralled, and begged my mom to take me. She did, and I was hooked.
When James Bond coldly dispatches Professor Dent in Dr. No, saying: “That’s a Smith and Wesson, and you’ve had your six,” it opened up a whole new world – a world of Ian Fleming and 007.
Ever since then, I’ve been a huge James Bond/Sean Connery fan.
The “irresistible cool” of his Bond character has lasted me a lifetime – I still collect Bond stuff, to this day. Books, toys, magazines, coins, stamps, lighters. Literally any kind of 007 merchandise you can imagine.
I’ve read every Ian Fleming novel, at least twice. I wear a silver SPECTRE ring.
In Istanbul, I spent days trying to find the locations for From Russia With Love.
And yes, absolutely, he was the best Bond ever.
Sean Connery is dead. He died at age 90, in his sleep in the Bahamas, with close friends and family surrounding him.
And as the world took notice, the tributes poured in, as reported by The Sun.
Sir Sean’s son, Jason Connery: “A sad day for all who knew and loved my dad and a sad loss for all people around the world who enjoyed the wonderful gift he had as an actor.”
The British Film Institute: “We’re deeply saddened to hear of the passing of iconic actor Sir Sean Connery, aged 90.”
Film producer Barbara Broccoli: “We are devastated by the news of the passing of Sir Sean Connery.
“He was and shall always be remembered as the original James Bond whose indelible entrance into cinema history began when he announced those unforgettable words – ‘The name’s Bond … James Bond.'”
Piers Morgan: “RIP Sir Sean Connery, 90. The first James Bond. The best James Bond. What sad news.”
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon: “I was heartbroken to learn this morning of the passing of Sir Sean Connery. Our nation today mourns one of her best loved sons.
“Sean was born into a working-class Edinburgh family and through talent and sheer hard work, became a film icon and one of the world’s most accomplished actors.
“He will be remembered best as James Bond – for many, the classic 007 – but his roles were many and varied.”
They were indeed. Check out this amazing IMDB.com list.
Aside from seven classic Bond films, my favorites include The Untouchables, The Man Who Would Be King, The Name of the Rose, The Hunt for Red October, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Five Days One Summer, Cuba, The Wind and the Lion and Time Bandits, to name just a few.
Perhaps one of the classiest tributes is from the current James Bond, Daniel Craig, reported by Variety.
“It is with such sadness that I heard of the passing of one of the true greats of cinema,” Craig said in a statement.
“Sir Sean Connery will be remembered as Bond and so much more. He defined an era and a style. The wit and charm he portrayed on screen could be measured in megawatts; he helped create the modern blockbuster.
“He will continue to influence actors and filmmakers alike for years to come. My thoughts are with his family and loved ones. Wherever he is, I hope there is a golf course.”
Shirley Bassey, who sang the (best) themes to three Bond films including Goldfinger, told the BBC: “I’m incredibly saddened to hear of Sean’s passing.
“My thoughts are with his family. He was a wonderful person, a true gentleman, and we will be forever connected by Bond.”
Star Wars director George Lucas, who also created the Indiana Jones character, said Sir Sean “left an indelible mark in cinematic history.”
“He will always hold a special place in my heart as Indy’s dad. With an air of intelligent authority and sly sense of comedic mischief, only someone like Sean Connery could render Indiana Jones immediately into boyish regret or relief through a stern fatherly chiding or rejoiceful hug.
“I’m thankful for having had the good fortune to have known and worked with him. My thoughts are with his family.”
As The Guardian reported, it would have been easy for Sean Connery to bask in the fame and riches from his most famous role.
But to his credit, almost from the beginning of his success as James Bond, he was up for more challenging assignments – for which we are most thankful.
However, having turned his back on his alter ego, and no matter what else he did, Connery would continue to be associated principally with Ian Fleming’s secret-agent hero, and remain the actor against whom all the subsequent James Bonds are measured – to their disadvantage, The Guardian reported.
As the famed critic Roger Ebert put it: “Basically, you have Connery, and then you have all the rest.”
Connery himself was more down to earth.
“There’s nothing special about being an actor,” Connery once remarked. “It’s a job, like being a bricklayer, and I’ve never stopped being amazed at the mystique people attach to my business.”
“He really is the anti-James Bond in private,” his longtime friend, Parisian film rep Denise Breton, told Rolling Stone magazine.
“I remember that when we were filming Five Days One Summer in Switzerland, he wanted to see a movie one night with his son. He got in line but couldn’t get tickets; they were sold out.
“Nobody recognized him, and he refused to go to the manager and say, ‘I’m Sean Connery, could I get in?’ He wouldn’t use his name. So they went to dinner instead.”
Dr. No was shot in Jamaica on a shoestring budget of US$1 million. Bernard Lee played M, the crusty old secret-service chief, and Lois Maxwell played his lovelorn secretary, Moneypenny, Rolling Stone reported.
Also on hand were television’s Jack Lord as Felix Leiter, James Bond’s CIA buddy; Joseph Wiseman as Dr Julius No; and – oh, yes – Ursula Andress, who made one of the most stunning bikini debuts in screen history.
“The thing that looked great right when it was being filmed was that scene with Ursula Andress coming out of the water,” said Island Records head Chris Blackwell, a young friend of Ian Fleming’s who worked as a location scout. “When that scene was done, everybody applauded.”
Another scene, in which Connery – who liked to do his own stunts – was required to drive a small sports car between the giant tires of a construction crane, was not as much fun.
“He’s very lucky to be alive,” director Terrence Young said after the event. “We damn near killed him. When we rehearsed it, he drove about 5 or 10 miles an hour, just to see if he could go under it, and he cleared it by about 4 inches.
“But as we were shooting it, he was coming at 40, 50 miles an hour – and he suddenly realized the car was bouncing 2 feet up in the air, and there he was with his head sticking out. It so happened that the last bounce came just before he reached the thing and he went down and under – or he would’ve been killed.”
John F Kennedy, a big Ian Fleming fan, was given a private screening of the film, to which he remarked: “I wish I had James Bond on my staff.”
And those opening credits, my god – what full-blooded young man didn’t anticipate the latest Bond adventure after watching the artistry, ahem, of film title designer Maurice Binder?
And then came From Russia With Love. Perhaps the greatest Bond film ever.
It was filmed on location in Turkey with a splendid cast that included Robert Shaw as the blond SPECTRE assassin and, perhaps most memorably, Lotte Lenya as the crypto-lesbian Rosa Klebb, Rolling Stone reported.
The film also featured one of my favorite fight scenes ever, a breathtakingly realistic battle aboard the Orient Express between Connery and Shaw that was scheduled for several days’ shooting but was wrapped in a single day when the actors decided to forgo their doubles and do the fight themselves.
“I had $2 million for From Russia With Love,” said Young, who once again directed. “That was a good budget, and it was, in my opinion, the best of all the Bond films – because it was the best of the Bond books.”
Which brings me back to the best Christmas ever.
It was the year when me and my friends all had James Bond attaché case toys, complete with a 007 gun and silencer, knife, coding machine, wallet and business cards.
You could not imagine a happier kid in the 1960s, and it only cost $10. A similar item in fair condition on eBay today will cost you several thousand dollars.
That was in the year 1965, approximately 55 years ago. If a movie franchise lasts that long, you know it’s got cachet.
Spectre, the last Bond film, made $880 million at the box office. Bond 25, No Time to Die, is being held back because of Covid-19 and could make even more. The producers have rejected a $600 million offer from Netflix and Apple.
There’s even talk of a James Bond prequel … a young Bond, battling Nazis in the London Blitz. Perhaps new generations of Bond fans will be born from that.
But as Bond says to Ali Karem Bey, after he pings off KGB agent Krilencu, who climbed out of “the mouth” of a billboard featuring Anita Ekberg: “She should have kept her mouth shut.”
No one could have delivered that line better than Sean Connery. No one else could carry that magic on a big screen. He was beyond compare. And we will miss him, greatly.
– with files from The Sun, IMDB.com, Variety, JFK Library, The Guardian, Rolling Stone magazine and Roger Ebert