Goodbye, Mr. Bond… The Greatest of Them All.
I’m old enough now that celebrity deaths shouldn’t surprise me, but here we are mourning another performer whose departure feels too sudden. But for once, I’ll take part of the blame for this—apparently he’s not still 72 years old as I remember him from The League of the Extraordinary Gentlemen. Sean Connery, in fact, passed away at age 90, and while no life ever feels complete, it’s not an age that will land him on a clickbait slideshow called “Stars We Lost Too Soon.” All screen actors are immortalized at the ages they film their movies, but since Connery actually stuck to his promise of retirement (only lending his voice to a few projects after Extraordinary Gentlemen), for most of us he’ll always be, at most, 72 years old.
I can’t remember if that film was my first introduction him or if it was his most iconic film—that is, the most iconic for my generation. We Millennials know him best as Dr. Henry Jones, father to Indiana Jones and an overall ultimate movie dad. Leave it to Connery to make his workaholic, emotionally absent father so lovable and cool. He makes you feel the need to jump through hoops for his approval and slaps you for using the Lord’s name in vain, but he also fights Nazis alongside you and finally lets you know he’s always been proud of you. (He also sleeps with the same German femme fatale you do, which is a plot point that flew over my head for years.) You could make a case Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade is the best of the franchise, but you couldn’t do that without Connery.
While I’ve still got plenty of his oeuvre to see (another consequence of being a #Millennial), I’ve yet to not see him pull off the balance a tough exterior with a vulnerable heart, which is a tricky high wire act. He made legendary kings into humans in Time Bandits and Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves; he showed conviction inside of hardened government agents in The Hunt for Red October and The Rock; and he convinced us of that plot twist in Murder on the Orient Express and that the pure ridiculousness of James Bond could inspire 60 years of films with no sign of slowing down. (Side note: my first introduction to him might have been “Bond Saturday Nights” on ABC, where they were edited down to something appropriate for the family room TV. I’m certain much of those movies flew over my head, too.)
I recently revisited his final performance as the adventure hero Allan Quartermain in Extraordinary Gentlemen (it’s not hard to find on cable TV), and I couldn’t help but think about how a few nips and tucks to the script and a premiere in a climate more obsessed with superheroes might have made it another hit series. Eleven-year-old me sure thought this Avengers-esque team-up of famous characters was cool, and Connery had the kind of charisma to make us buy into a steampunk cinematic universe. I suspect he would have made an excellent Nick Fury-type guiding the franchise’s future, and I suspect audiences never would have tired of his appearances no matter how long such a franchise lasted, which is perhaps the highest praise for an actor. Alas, here I am daydreaming of what could have been, but I suppose that’s what happens when we lose a beloved performer—though I can’t remember the first time I saw Sean Connery, I’ve still yet to tire of seeing him.