In October and November 2020, after the death of iconic actor Sean Connery, reports and social media posts emerged highlighting what appeared to be the Scottish "James Bond" star's disturbing views on violence towards women.
Amid the wave of tributes and anecdotes that now typically accompanies the death of a celebrity, social media users also shared a clip from an interview with Connery, in which he appeared to stand by an earlier endorsement of striking women.
In the video, ABC News host Barbara Walters can be seen, in an exchange dating back to 1987, confronting Connery with his past remarks:
Walters: You did an interview in which you said, "It's not the worst thing to slap a woman now and then." As I remember, you said you don't do it with a clenched fist, it's better to do it with an open hand. Yeah. Remember that?
Walters: Yeah. I didn't love that.
Connery: And I haven't changed my opinion.
Walters: You haven't?
Connery: No. Not at all.
Walters: You think it's good to slap a woman?
Connery: No I don't think it's good —
Walters: You don't think it's bad though.
Connery: I don't think it's that bad. I think that it depends entirely on the circumstances and if it merits it, yeah.
Walters: And what would merit it?
Connery: Well, if you have tried everything else, and women are pretty good at this, that they can't leave it alone. They don't — they want to have the last word. And you give them the last word but they're not happy with the last word. They want to say it again and get into a really provocative situation. Then I think it's absolutely right.
The video clip shared widely online after Connery's death was authentic. He did indeed say it was "absolutely right" to slap a woman "if you have tried everything else." Although the clip was clearly cut from a longer conversation, and Connery himself later said his remarks were taken out of context by the producers of the Walters interview, such claims do not alter the fact that Connery readily admitted that he had not "changed his opinion" "at all" from the one he outlined in a 1965 interview.
In that interview with Playboy 22 years earlier, Connery said that "An openhanded slap is justified...if all other alternatives fail and there has been plenty of warning," and that "If a woman is a bitch, or hysterical, or bloody-minded continually, then I'd do it." It was those disturbing remarks that Connery firmly stood by in his interview with Walters.
Connery endorsed striking women on at least four occasions, and probably more. In the November 1965 issue of Playboy, he was asked: "How do you feel about roughing up a woman, as Bond sometimes has to do?" Connery replied:
I don't think there is anything particularly wrong about hitting a woman — although I don't recommend doing it in the same way that you'd hit a man. An openhanded slap is justified — if all other alternatives fail and there has been plenty of warning. If a woman is a bitch, or hysterical, or bloody-minded continually, then I'd do it.
I think a man has to be slightly advanced, ahead of the woman. I really do — by virtue of the way a man is built, if nothing else. But I wouldn't call myself sadistic. I think one of the appeals that Bond has for women, however, is that he is decisive, cruel even. By their nature women aren't decisive — "Shall I wear this? Shall I wear that?" — and along comes a man who is absolutely sure of everything and he's a godsend. And, of course, Bond is never in love with a girl and that helps. He always does what he wants, and women like that. It explains why so many women are crazy about men who don't give a rap for them.
In December 1987, when confronted by Walters about that 1965 interview, Connery reaffirmed his position, saying "I haven't changed my opinion" and "if you have tried everything else,...then I think it's absolutely right."
In a June 1988 interview published by the Philadelphia Daily News, Connery was asked about the controversy surrounding his interview with Walters. He said "I wouldn't change anything I said in that show," meaning he was reaffirming the position that he stood by his 1965 remarks, and that it was "absolutely right" for a man to strike a woman "if you have tried everything else."
In an interview for the June 1993 issue of Vanity Fair, Connery was again confronted with both his 1965 and 1987 remarks:
Connery says that his comments on the Walters show were seen out of context and made to seem more sensational than they were. "They taped two hours of me and only showed 20 minutes. Barbara Walters was trying to get me to say it was O.K. to hit women. But I was really saying that to slap a woman was not the crudest thing you can do to her. I said that in my book—it's much more cruel to psychologically damage somebody... to put them in such distress that they really come to hate themselves.... Sometimes there are women who take it to the wire. That's what they're looking for, the ultimate confrontation—they want a smack."
There, Connery promulgated the myth that women who are physically abused by their partners are responsible for their own abuse by inviting or provoking it ("that's what they're looking for," "they want a smack") rather than the responsibility lying solely with the partner who freely chooses to perpetrate the physical abuse.
His claims of having been misrepresented in the Walters interview were also hollow. It's possible that, in unaired interview footage, Connery told Walters that he viewed psychological abuse as being more harmful than physical abuse. That wouldn't change the fact that he also told her that he stood by his 1965 remarks, and still believed it was "absolutely right" to slap a woman "if you have tried everything else."
In June 1992, Labour party members of the British House of Commons introduced a motion condemning what they described as remarks Connery made in an interview with the Australian Women's Weekly magazine that April, to the effect that "giving a woman a smack in the face is acceptable conduct, and that she is 'looking for' such behavior on the part of her partner or husband." An associated parliamentary motion attributed the following purported quotation to Connery:
"If she wants some kind of confrontation it's very difficult for it not to materialise, it builds and builds, and you can only take so much. Nobody's perfect. If someone in those circumstances is intent on a physical confrontation then it's going to happen. Because, in part, that is what she was looking for."
An original copy of the 1992 magazine article was not readily available, so we can't definitively verify its authenticity and provenance. However, the inclusion of a lengthy, direct quotation in one of the motions, combined with the fact that the tone of that quotation conforms with Connery's other known statements, and the fact that members of parliament enter material on the record under penalty for deliberately misleading the House of Commons, strongly indicate that the 1992 quotation is authentic, and therefore a fifth instance of Connery's publicly endorsing violence against women.
Connery's first wife, the Australian actor Diane Cilento, accused him of going far beyond condoning violence against women in his utterances. In her 2006 autobiography, Cilento wrote that Connery had been cruel and emotionally abusive towards her, and on one occasion, struck her twice in the face in a hotel room in Spain, knocking her unconscious. Cilento outlined the alleged attack in an interview with the Daily Mail in 2006, claiming it was provoked by Connery's jealousy because Cilento had been dancing with various people at a party that evening:
Towards the end of the evening, she sought out her husband of three years - by then world famous as James Bond - and went up to their room to find him.
‘I was a bit drunk,’ she recalls, talking about the incident fully for the first time, but she could never have expected what came next. Connery was waiting for her. ‘Once inside our room in the darkness, I felt a blow to my face and was knocked to the floor and passed out for a few seconds. Then I was screaming, we were both shouting. I got to my feet and tried to fight back, but another blow sent me flying.
‘I managed to get through the bathroom door and locked myself in. I spent the rest of the night sprawled on the bathroom floor, covered with towels, whimpering.’
Connery went to bed without a word. Next morning Diane - who was then an ethereal beauty of 31 - looked in the mirror and was appalled at what she saw. ‘I felt sure my face would never be the same again.’ Now, sitting in her son Jason's cottage in the Scottish Borders, she still sounds bemused as she remembers the incident.
‘I was in shock - no one had ever treated me like that, it was confusing, and I felt ashamed in a way - and afraid of the Press finding out. What could I say - that I walked into a door?’
Connery denied the allegations. In 2006, the London Evening Standard reported that the actor had said it was "a crock of shit," and dismissed Cilento, saying "She is bad seed and ought simply to be ignored."
In 2006, Connery's past endorsements of violence towards women became the subject of controversy in his native Scotland. The actor had been scheduled to take part in a public conversation with George Reid, then presiding officer of the Scottish Parliament (roughly equivalent to the speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives), at that August's Festival of Politics in Edinburgh.
Connery was a fervent Scottish nationalist, supporting both the unsuccessful 2014 referendum that proposed Scotland's secession from the United Kingdom, as well as Reid's Scottish National Party, the main political driving force behind those independence efforts.
However, in June 2006, Reid reportedly told Holyrood magazine that he intended to ask Connery "difficult questions" about his past endorsements of striking women. Reportedly angered by that, Connery canceled his appearance at the festival, despite a public apology by Reid. Remarkably, the leader of the Scottish National Party, Alex Salmond, publicly backed Connery, rather than his own party colleague Reid, saying the actor was "justified in the position he has taken" and adding that, "the interview had been set in an impossible context."
In the aftermath of the Holyrood controversy, it was reported that Connery had "clarified" his previous remarks about violence against women, and as of November 2020, his Wikipedia profile claimed that in 2006 he had said "I don't believe that any level of abuse of women is ever justified under any circumstances."
This is not accurate.
On June 25, 2006, the Times of London published an article that reported that Connery had "told friends he has never supported hitting women in any circumstances":
The Edinburgh-born movie star has always maintained he was quoted out of context and last week told friends: “My view is I don’t believe that any level of abuse against women is ever justified under any circumstances. Full stop.” Sources close to Connery said he had been “hurt and annoyed” that alleged comments from 40 years ago were still being dredged up.
On the basis of that Times article, the Glasgow-based national newspaper the Herald subsequently reported that: "Sir Sean Connery last night broke his silence on allegations he condoned violence against women by insisting that abuse could never be justified."
There are several serious flaws in the reporting of Connery's supposed opposition to violence against women, in 2006.
Firstly, as we have outlined, Connery said what he said, on the record, in 1965, 1988, and 1993, and on camera, in 1987. His remarks were not "alleged," as the Times described them. Likewise, the Herald's description of "allegations he condoned violence against women" is unsatisfactory. Connery explicitly, unequivocally and repeatedly condoned and endorsed violence against women.
Secondly, Connery did not "break his silence" regarding those past remarks, in 2006, as the Herald claimed. The Times article contained no on-the-record statement from Connery. Rather, the article hinged upon a statement Connery reportedly made to unnamed "friends" of his, in a non-public context.
It's possible that Connery did make such remarks, but it is remarkable he saw fit to be quoted, on the record, endorsing slapping women, on at least four different occasions over three decades, but did not see fit to make an on-the-record statement of his purportedly new and different stance on the issue in 2006. We could find no instance of Connery himself unequivocally condemning any form of violence against women, on the record.
It's also noteworthy that the anonymously-sourced, private statement reportedly made by Connery in 2006 was accompanied by another statement, attributed anonymously to "sources close to Connery," which insisted that the actor was "hurt and annoyed" that his past remarks were being repeated, years later. Indeed, the Times' article also reported that: "The former Bond star has told friends he has never supported hitting women in any circumstances." As we have demonstrated, such a claim would be wildly false.
If you need help, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or visit TheHotline.org.