George Lazenby rejects six James Bond films, tanks career, later loses son, 19, to brain tumor

In 1968, when George Lazenby, now 84, was recruited to play James Bond On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, he had some very big shoes to fill.

Unfortunately, the shoes – earlier worn by the legendary Sean Connery – didn’t properly fit the actor who followed some bad advice.

And when Lazenby’s galactic popularity became history, the real-life playboy then shifted his focus on building a family, later caring for his son, who died in 1994 of a malignant brain tumor.

Since Dr. No premiered in 1963, the James Bond franchise exploded in popularity, with multiple films spanning five decades and seven actors bringing the fictional character to life.

The late Sean Connery – whose profile became synonymous with the secret service agent – was the first to play the suave and sexy Bond in five films from 1962 to 1967, and then he grew tired of it.

Speaking with Playboy in 1965 (through Time), Connery said he was “fed up to here with the whole Bond bit.” He added that being identified by fans as the character was “a bit of a bore.”

When he ended his tenure, the film’s creators had a massive task at hand: they had to find a new actor to live up to the hype of the iconic character.

Charm, chocolate and Broccoli
In 1968, 29-year-old George Lazenby was an unknown actor in Australia when he was awarded his breakthrough role in the sixth installment of the epic James Bond saga.

And all it took was a lot of charm, some chocolate and a Broccoli.

The model, who was born in 1939, was the star of a series of commercials for Fry’s Chocolate Cream, which attracted the attention of producer Albert R. Broccoli, who through his career produced many James Bond films, including 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

According to IMDB, Lazenby went to extreme lengths to get the role that Connery had left behind.

This included spending his last penny “on acquiring a tailor-made suit from Sean Connery’s tailor, which was originally made for Connery, along with purchasing a very Bondish-looking Rolex watch.”

And though the man only had experience as a model and promoting Fry’s Chocolate, he was given an opportunity to audition and the producers – Harry Saltzman and Broccoli – had found their next James Bond.

Poor reviews
When On Her Majesty’s Secret Service was released in 1969, the reviews were scathing and the comparisons to Connery were exhausting.

Gene Siskel, former critic with the Chicago Tribune, noted that Lazenby “doesn’t fill Sean Connery’s shoes, Aston-Martin, or stretch pants. The new 007 is more boyish and consequently less of a man. He doesn’t order food with the same verve, and generally lacks the self-satisfied smirk that Connery kept with him and transmitted to his audience.”

Referring to the poor reviews, the actor said “I didn’t read them, so I didn’t get upset,” he told the Daily Mail.

And the real-life playboy had no idea how bad the reviews were until he bumped into a critic at a nightclub. “…one of the top reporters at the time said to me, ‘I owe you an apology for writing a bad piece about you, but Broccoli and Saltzman told me it was open season on you.’”

It was “open season,” he clarifies, “because I still hadn’t signed the contract to do more films it was embarrassing for them.”

‘Bond was over’

Despite the negative reviews, Lazenby was offered $1 million and a contract that would make him James Bond over six more films.

But his manager urged him against signing.

“My manager, Ronan O’Rahilly, wasn’t keen. He said, ‘Don’t do it. There’s a guy called Clint Eastwood over in Italy making Westerns for $500,000 a time. You could do two of those instead.”

Lazenby adds, “We thought Bond was over…We were wrong.”

Blacklisted
After refusing to sign the Bond contract, Lazenby said he “was blacklisted in the movie industry,” because “it was put around that I was difficult.’”

After his stratospheric rise and fall, Lazenby spent the next several decades performing smaller roles in films and TV.

“Acting wasn’t my vocation,” he admits, “but playing Bond was.”

Lady’s man
Though he wasn’t a big screen star, the lady’s man – a persona he kept after Bond – was still popular with women.

“Being a ladies man is one of the best things in the world,” he told the Telegraph.

He eventually did settle down in 1971 when he married his first wife, Christina Gannet. Together, the couple share children Melanie (born 1973) and Zachary, who was fighting a malignant brain tumor for eight years, until he died in 1994.

According to Gannet, the loss of their son left the “devastated” dad feeling “helpless and frustrated” about not being able to cure Zack.

Sharing a photo of him with Gannet and the two kids on Facebook, the Aussie writes, “The little boy on my right arm passed away at 19 with metastasized brain tumors. I still tear up whenever I think of it.”

One year after Zachary died, Lazenby divorced Gannet, and from 2002 until 2011, he was married Pam Shriver, an Olympic Gold medalist in tennis.

The couple have three children together: George, Jr (born 2004) and twins Kate and Sam (born 2005).

Though his life today would look very different if he had continued to play James Bond, Lazenby, who turns 85 in September, says his children are his greatest achievement.

Lazenby writes of his family, who frequently co-star in his social media posts, “[The] real achievements in my life are my kids. Very proud of all.”

Do you remember Lazenby as James Bond? Please let us know your thoughts and then share this story with your friends so we can hear what they have to say!

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