Sean Connery, who defined the role of 'James Bond' for a generation, dies at 90

Goodnight, Mr. Bond.

Villain Auric Goldfinger uttered that line in the 1964 James Bond classic "Goldfinger." The suave 007 managed to escape, of course, playing Bond seven times after debuting as the first Bond in film with 1962's "Dr. No."

The Oscar-winning Connery died at age 90, family spokeswoman Nancy Seltzer confirmed to USA TODAY on Saturday.

"His wife Micheline (Roquebrune) and his two sons, Jason and Stephane, have confirmed that he died peacefully in his sleep surrounded by family," Seltzer said. "There will be a private ceremony followed by a memorial yet to be planned once the virus has ended."

In a Saturday interview with British newspaper The Mail on Sunday, Roquebrune revealed he suffered from dementia.

"It was no life for him. He was not able to express himself latterly... I was with him all the time and he just slipped away. It was what he wanted," she told the outlet. "He had dementia and it took its toll on him. He got his final wish to slip away without any fuss."

Producers Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli said they were “devastated by the news" of the star's death.

“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,'” they said in a statement.

During his 007 tenure, Connery was the epitome of the suave but dangerous spy with a license to kill and the authority to flaunt his famously hairy chest in the process.

The legion of diehard Connery fans would adamantly insist that no one else could truly be referred to as Mr. Bond, not even the actors who followed in Connery’s footsteps (including you, Daniel Craig).

“Sean Connery was the first and most culturally influential Bond,” says Bill Desowitz, author of "James Bond Unmasked."  

"He combined tough working-class appeal with a smooth sense of refinement. The other Bonds have been chasing his shadow ever since. For a generation, Connery will forever remain the first and only James Bond.”

Director Steven Spielberg summed up the rugged Scotsman's instantaneous worldwide impact when presenting Connery with his American Film Institute lifetime achievement award in 2006.

"The moment Sean Connery introduced himself as Bond, he became the man all men wanted to be and all women just wanted," Spielberg said.

Sean Connery had license to take his shirt off in films such as 1971's "Diamonds Are Forever."

The journey to that screen moment was a long one for Connery, born Aug. 25, 1930, to Joseph and Euphamia Connery, a factory worker/truck driver and cleaning lady. The young Connery worked in menial jobs such as bricklayer, lifeguard and even a coffin polisher after three years of naval service.

While born poor, he did have gifts. Connery capitalized on his burly good looks as a bodybuilder (taking third in the 1950 Mr. Universe competition) and model.

After transitioning into acting, it took nearly eight years of bit parts before the aspiring actor would appear in his first leading role opposite Lana Turner in 1958's "Another Time, Another Place," followed by a singing lead role in Disney’s "Darby O’Gill and the Little People" (1959).

Three years later, he appeared in "Dr. No," first uttering the immortal 007 introduction, "Bond, James Bond," while lighting a cigarette in black tie at a luxury casino.

Connery learned how to portray the glamorous world of a screen spy under the tutelage of "Dr. No" director and bon vivant Terence Young. Young showed Connery how to eat and walk and fueled Connery's interest in the fine clothing Bond inhabits.

"You have to work very hard to make something look easy," Connery told USA TODAY in 2006 of his Bond portrayal.

With his clothing, cars and women, Bond was an immediate culture changer in depressed postwar Britain and worldwide.

"Connery was fresh and outside of the box. He was a younger, more dangerous Cary Grant," Desowitz says. "Even his walk conveyed this sense of power and sexiness. His producers described it as a panther's walk.”

Connery returned as Bond in 1963's "From Russia With Love," "Goldfinger," 1965's "Thunderball" and 1967's "You Only Live Twice." before stepped away from the prime franchise for myriad reasons – including the pursuit of more varied roles and the public pressure playing the instantly iconic character.

But the allure was too much to quit.

Sean Connery watches Madison Keys play Elise Mertens of Belgium on Day 2 of the 2017 U.S. Open on Aug.  29, 2017, in New York.

He was coaxed back for 1971's "Diamonds Are Forever" and 1983's "Never Say Never Again" (referred to as the "unofficial" Bond film because it wasn't made by Eon Productions).

Away from Bond, Connery received the breadth of roles and acting accolades for which he yearned. He played British military officer Colonel Arbuthnot in 1974's "Murder on the Orient Express" and adventurer Daniel Dravot in director John Huston’s "The Man Who Would Be King" (1975).

Connery played the immortal Juan Sánchez-Villalobos Ramírez in 1986's "Highlander" and 1991's "Highlander II: The Quickening," the only character besides Bond he played in more than one film. He was savagely shot-up as Irish-American officer Jim Malone working for Kevin Costner's Eliot Ness in 1987’s "The Untouchables." The role earned Connery an Oscar for best supporting actor at age 57. “Patience truly is a virtue,” Connery said in his acceptance speech.

Sean Connery played Harrison Ford's father in "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade." The two posed together in 2007.

Directors were willing to make story trade-offs to bring him on board a project. Spielberg cast Connery, then 58, to play Indiana Jones' cantankerous father alongside Harrison Ford, just 12 years younger, in 1989's "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade."

In 1990, he maintained his barely disguised Scottish accent as a Russian submarine captain trying to defect to the United States in "The Hunt for Red October."

Connery's celebrity came with controversy: During a 1987 TV interview, Connery held his ground on past inflammatory comments about striking a woman "if it merits it ... I think it's absolutely right."

But the actor weathered the outrage. Connery was proclaimed People’s Sexiest Man Alive at 59 in 1989. When he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in July 2000, he declared it "one of the proudest days of my life."

The love for Connery, whom Spielberg called one of "seven movie stars in the world today," never dimmed even as he stepped increasingly away from acting to retirement in the Bahamas with Roquebrune, his wife of 45 years. Before Roquebrune, he married Diane Cilento in 1962, and they had a son together, Jason. They were divorced in 1973.

The Bond influence remained even as the roles became less frequent, such as Allan Quatermain, head of a group of Victorian-era superheroes in 2003’s "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen." 

Even voicing an animated character in his final role, as an aged, clumsy veterinarian in the 2012 Scottish film "Sir Billi," brought out a slew of Bond references.

During a rare public appearance in August 2017, when the 87-year-old actor showed up courtside at New York’s U.S. Open tennis match, Connery beamed with delight when his image was displayed as the loudspeaker blasted the Bond theme. In August 2020,  he easily topped all screen Bonds in a Radio Times fan poll, 37 years after his final performance. 

"Connery did have that great career he wanted beyond the scope of Bond,” Desowitz says. “But for many, Sean Connery will be remembered as 007. That’s his enduring legacy.”

Contributing: The Associated Press