x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Newsmaker: Pierce Brosnan's dream interrupted by reality

The Irish actor and former James Bond has endured the loss of a wife and, this week, a daughter during his distinguished career.

Kagan McLeod for The National
Kagan McLeod for The National

Interviewed in late 1997, in advance of the Hollywood and New York charity premieres of his second Bond film, Tomorrow Never Dies, in aid of women's cancer care, Pierce Brosnan recalled the disease that claimed his wife Cassie, prophetically observing: "I lend my name when I can. Charlotte is 25 and I want to see her have a full, rich life and children and not think that because her mother died, she could develop such a dreadful disease." This week, at the age of 42, his daughter Charlotte succumbed to ovarian cancer, as her mother had done two decades earlier.

And so another blow has been dealt to one of the most recognised and popular actors on the planet. He once remarked: "I've had very good fortune, my life has been a dream, really, with big dollops of reality thrown at me every now and then. If you pay attention to it then hopefully it makes you a better person." Pierce Brosnan's journey has been a remarkable one.

Pierce Brendan Brosnan was born in 1953 in Drogheda, County Louth, but grew up in Navan in County Meath, the only child of Thomas Brosnan, a carpenter, who left his wife, May, and son when Pierce was two. Two years later, May went to England to become a nurse, leaving Pierce with his grandparents. When they died he went to an aunt and uncle, then to the boarding house run by a friend. His was a solitary childhood but he recalled: "You live in your imagination because you don't really have anyone else to turn to." Seven years later, as Janet Cawley put it in a profile for Biography magazine, the 11-year-old Pierce "boarded a plane, clutching a rosary in one hand and an aspirin bottle with holy water in the other, to rejoin his by-then remarried mother … The date was August 12, 1964, the day James Bond creator Ian Fleming died."

As an Irish outsider, he had a horrible time at his crowded south London comprehensive, and left school at sixteen. He worked as a graphic artist for a studio that supplied furniture drawings for newspaper ads. The first film he recalls seeing was Goldfinger. He also confessed to enjoying a parody of Bond, James Coburn's Our Man Flint. Despite his enthusiasm for film, he was not drawn to acting until a co-worker took him to see a local drama group. As he walked through the doors of the performing arts centre in Kennington he "found a life for myself".

He gave up his job, but would continue to paint and draw at leisure. He did some provincial theatre and television. Tennessee Williams took a shine to him in The Red Devil Battery Sign, remarking: "Thank God for you, my dear boy." In 1977, while starring in Franco Zeffirelli's Filumena, Brosnan met Australian actress, Cassandra (Cassie) Harris, the divorced wife of Dermot, a brother of the actor Richard Harris. They would marry in 1980 and, on Dermot's death, Brosnan adopted her two children, Charlotte and Christopher. The following year, he won a role in an ABC mini-series about the Irish potato famine, The Manions of America. Encouraged by the tale of an Irishman prospering in the US, they took out a £2,000 loan against a mortgage and moved to California. In 1981, Cassie was cast as Countess Lisl in For Your Eyes Only and introduced her husband to the legendary Bond producer, Cubby Broccoli.

The following year, he began a six-year television run as a smooth, young private detective, Remington Steele. He had already shed much of his childhood accent, speaking, as GQ put it, "in that curious brogue of no fixed abode". But the series was both a blessing and a curse: in 1986, his obligations to the show forced him to turn down the role of the next James Bond on film; that went to Timothy Dalton.

As the series ended, Cassie was diagnosed with cancer and, after four years of treatment and surgery, she died in his arms in 1991, leaving their eight-year-old son, Sean, and Brosnan distraught. Cassie's last words to her husband were: "Always an actor."

As a single father of three, he continued to work (among his roles was Robin William's rival for Sally Field in 1993's Mrs Doubtfire). And then, in 1994, he was named James Bond, having thought he had lost the chance forever. His first Bond, the record-breaking GoldenEye, was to gross $350 million (Dh1.3 billion).

Having grown up with Sean Connery as Bond, Brosnan looked to him as his model, but Roger Moore's humour also had its appeal. As he confessed to The Sunday Times, "I kind of stole from both. But when I went to the text, when I read Fleming's Bond, you see the man is vulnerable."

In 1994, he also found another "whole new life" when he met Keely Shaye Smith, a reporter. Both took up environmental causes and, in 2001, he became a Unicef ambassador. They had two sons, Dylan and Paris, and married in 2001 in Ballintubber Abbey, County Mayo, the only church founded by an Irish king and still in regular use. It was quite some return to the land of his forefathers.

He took other parts and also founded his own production company, Irish DreamTime, enjoying great success with a revival of Steve McQueen's The Thomas Crown Affair (1999). But it was his four Bond films - GoldenEye, Tomorrow Never Dies, The World is Not Enough and Die Another Day - put him in the Bond firmament and made him a superstar.

Ironically, in the first few minutes of Die Another Day (2002), which would be his last appearance as Bond, Judi Dench as M strides into his recovery room to inform him: "Double-O status rescinded." His ownership of Bond was not, in fact, rescinded until the autumn of 2004 and, when it came, it was a blow. Brosnan had saved the celluloid spy franchise; he had revived a cultural phenomenon. Even the MI6 website itself promised its recruits "a stimulating and rewarding career which, like Bond's, will be in the service of their country". The ultimate accolade. It was claimed that more than half the earth's population has seen at least one Bond film. But in keeping with his own temperament and a decade of playing at being shaken not stirred, he maintained, at least publicly: "It's a gift that keeps giving constantly and I'm forever grateful for doing it."

And there was a liberating aspect to his disenfranchisement. In 2002, in the film Evelyn, he found that his art resonated with his own life. Set in Ireland in 1953, the year he was born, Brosnan played Desmond Doyle, a Dubliner who had to fight through the courts to win back his children after they had been abandoned by his philandering wife. His own experience was quite different but he had experienced a fractured home life and had himself been a single father. He admitted his response to the script was "pretty much from the gut". Despite his passion, reception to the film was disappointing.

In 2007, Brosnan was organising the funeral for his beloved stepfather Bill Carmichael when a call came offering him a part in the immensely popular romantic musical, Mama Mia! (2008), opposite Meryl Streep. He was immediately won over when he learnt his character, Sam Carmichael, shared his Scottish stepfather's name. Meryl Streep's character had kept as a memento Sam's set of bagpipes covered in Carmichael tartan and, at the end of filming, Brosnan gave them to his mother.

The following year he starred in The Greatest with Susan Sarandon and Carey Mulligan, who plays the pregnant girlfriend of Brosnan's on-screen son who had died in a car accident. Brosnan had to be persuaded to take the role as his and Cassie's sixteen-year-old son, Sean, had almost died when a car in which he was a passenger went off a cliff in Malibu in 2000. Brosnan recalled: "When the script came along I thought, let's go there, let's see."

Later in 2009, while working on The Ghost Writer, he got to know the director, Roman Polanski, whose heavily pregnant wife, Sharon Tate, had been murdered by followers of cult leader Charles Manson in 1969. Brosnan recalled talking with Polanski "about the loss of wives, of life, death, dying and grief". Polanski elicited from Brosnan an impressive performance of subtlety and depth in this adaptation of Robert Harris's novel of a former prime minister not unlike Tony Blair.

Last year, he returned to art imitating life in the warm yet heartbreaking comedy, Love is all You Need, by Oscar-winning Danish director, Susanne Bier. He plays a gruff, workaholic, widowed father of the groom who meets and falls for the bride's mother, who has just had a mastectomy. The Danish title of the film is The Bald-Headed Hairdresser. As The Times' critic put it: "It's fantastic to see a film about cancer in which the sufferer isn't defined by her disease".

During this film, Brosnan was aware that his only daughter was fighting the same disease that had killed her mother, which now makes his performance even more poignant. Brosnan was with Charlotte when she died but, ever the professional, he soon returned to the Serbian set of his latest film, November Man; losing himself in his work is a role he knows so well.



1953 Born on May 16 in County Louth, the only child of Thomas and May Brosnan

1964 Joined his mother in Britain

1980 Married Cassandra Harris, mother of Charlotte and Christopher whom he later adopted

1982 His first starring role as private eye Remington Steele

1991 Death of his wife Cassie from ovarian cancer

1994 Met Keely Shaye Smith, whom he would marry in 2001

1995 Appears as James Bond in GoldenEye, the first of four films as 007

2013 Death of his daughter Charlotte from ovarian cancer


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