Sean Connery: Hollywood sex symbol and Scottish icon

TO THOSE who remember him growing up in Edinburgh he was "Big Tam the milkman", the Japanese call him "Mr Kiss-Kiss Bang-Bang", while to the readers of People Magazine he is "The Sexiest Man of the 20th Century". His voice is mimicked by tens of thousands of people round the world and he has bedded some of Hollywood's most beautiful women - on and off screen.

Sir Sean Connery has never shied away from the limelight or from controversy – both have followed him since he was a strapping teenager. If James Bond 007 is larger than life then so too is Sir Sean. He is outspoken on a range of issues and has a formidable army of detractors as well as millions of adoring admirers, mostly women who melt at the sound of his "dangerously sexy" Scottish accent.

He will forever be remembered as the definitive James Bond. When the first Bond film, "Dr No", hit the silver screen in 1962 it caused an absolute sensation. Connery was catapulted to super-stardom and a wave of Bond-mania swept the world. A number of established actors, including Cary Grant, David Niven and Roger Moore, had been considered for the role of the suave secret agent. A young Burt Reynolds was offered the part but turned it down, a decision he says has caused him many a sleepless night. Connery, a young Scottish pretender in the Hollywood scene at the time, grabbed the opportunity and made the role his own.

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Albert "Cubby" Broccoli, who produced the Bond films, is said to have been impressed by Connery's tough physique but also by the fact he moved "like a panther". The clamour for follow-up movies was enormous and Connery starred in "From Russia With Love", "Goldfinger", "Thunderball" and "You Only Live Twice", after which he quit the role. He returned four years later in "Diamonds Are Forever" and quit again only to re-appear as Bond for a final time in 1983 in "Never Say Never Again", an "unofficial" film made by a rival company.

There is, however, a lot more to Sir Sean than simply James Bond. He has endured as a major film star for five decades and no other Scot, alive or dead, has made such an impact on Hollywood. Films like "The Man Who Would Be King" and "The Hunt For Red October" are testament to his versatility, and in 1987 he won an Oscar for his supporting role in "The Untouchables". While many of his 1960s contemporaries - Paul Newman, Robert Redford, Clint Eastwood - have faded from the screen, Connery, now in his 70s, is still cast as sex symbol and action hero.

His multi-millionaire lifestyle in the Bahamas is a far cry from the poverty he witnessed growing up in Edinburgh's Fountainbridge section. With his parents Joe and Effie and younger brother Neil, he lived in a two-room, top floor flat with one bedroom and an outside toilet. Thomas Connery - he adopted the name Sean when his acting career began - slept in the bottom drawer of the family wardrobe and grew into an ambitious streetwise kid.

At Bruntsfield Primary School he was marked out by his sheer physical size. He was known as Big Tam, a tough and uncompromising character and an excellent footballer; he later turned down a trial with Manchester United in favour of an acting career. Connery worked as a milk delivery boy in Edinburgh's West End before leaving school at age 14 and joining up with the Royal Navy, an adventure that lasted two years before he was discharged with stomach ulcers. During his military days he got two small tattoos on his right arm, one saying "Mum and Dad", the other "Scotland Forever".

Connery worked for a time as a French polisher, a labourer at the Edinburgh Evening News print plant, and took up bodybuilding. He represented Great Britain in the 1953 Mr Universe competition, posed for university art students and worked as a lifeguard at Portobello pool.

The acting bug took him first to London, where he made his screen debut in 1955 in an uncredited role in "Lilacs in the Spring". Three years later he played the love interest of Hollywood sex symbol Lana Turner in "Another Time, Another Place". Turner's real-life gangster boyfriend, Johnny Stompanato, arrived on set, pulled a gun on Connery and warned him to back off his girl. Connery replied by flooring him.

In the 1970s Sir Sean caused fury when he told an interviewer that it was acceptable in certain circumstances to hit women. Equally controversial has been his outspokenness about Scottish politics and his espousal of the Scottish National Party. In recent years he has fallen out with biographers and has been quoted as saying he will never make a film again because of the "idiots in Hollywood".

He was knighted in 2000 and has received honours from the presidents of the US and Panama for his contribution to acting. Married twice, to actress Diane Cilento and artist Micheline Roquebrune, his son Jason has now followed in his father’s acting footsteps.

Such as his life as a lasting sex symbol, Sir Sean prompted the left-wing MP George Galloway, attending the 2005 Edinburgh Festival, to write: "Connery, surely, must be the only 75-year-old in the whole wide world who could pull virtually any of the Festival Fringe debutantes".

Mish Moneypenny would be proud.

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