The name "George Lazenby" has become synonymous with missed opportunities and mountains of regret. The Australian model-turned-actor lost out on fame and fortune when he walked away from the role of a lifetime. Read these regrettable facts about George Lazenby, the man who bailed on Bond, James Bond.
George Lazenby was born in 1939 in Australia—a long way away from his future in Hollywood. In fact, everything about his childhood was surprising. Far from a suave upbringing, his father was a railway worker and his mother was a department store clerk. It should have been a quiet childhood...except for the fact that he barely survived it.
When he was just a wee little joey, Lazenby underwent multiple surgeries that had him in the hospital for 18 months. By the end of the ordeal, he only had half of one kidney left, and Lazenby’s doctors were less than optimistic about his prospects. They told the Lazenby family that he would be lucky to make it to 12. Luckily, they were wrong...but more upheaval was on the way.
In 1963, when Lazenby was 24 years old, life threw him a curveball. While in Australia, he met an upper-class girl and fell in love, and he had it bad. In Lazenby’s own words, “I fell in love with this beautiful woman who was way out of my class […]”. Unbeknownst to Lazenby, this chance encounter would set his whole life—and fame—into motion.
Lazenby was about to make his move on this “beautiful woman” when she up and moved to England. Compelled by some astral force—or the force in his pants—Lazenby did the only thing that a lovestruck 24-year-old could do. He moved to London to pursue his heart and track down this mysterious woman. Only, it didn't work out as planned.
Unfortunately for Lazenby, his grand (and possibly slightly creepy) gesture turned out to be a total waste of time. He had packed up and moved away for the woman, giving up his job in the process, but there was one little thing wrong: He didn't know where she was. In fact, he never found her at all. Yet as it turned out, this was its own kind of destiny.
After his failed romantic jaunt, Lazenby didn’t do the expected thing. Instead of going home, he took up a job as a used car salesman—which is exactly where the fates wanted him to be. While there, Lazenby caught the attention of a talent scout, and in the blink of an eye, he'd become a very sought-after model. Enter: James Bond.
Picture this: The year is 1968, and James Bond star Sean Connery has just announced that he won't be reprising his role as Ian Fleming's spy hero. The producer Albert R. Broccoli is desperately searching for a replacement—so when Broccoli found himself next to the strapping Lazenby in a barbershop one day, he knew he had something special on his hands.
It sounds like a fairy tale for Lazenby. It was really a horror story.
Without a second thought, Broccoli offered Lazenby the opportunity to take a screen test for the upcoming Bond film, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. There was just one issue with the whole idea. Apart from some short commercials and one bare film credit, Lazenby was not an actor. Instead, he had to impress them in an entirely different way.
Lazenby was effortlessly debonaire and easily dashing when he walked into the audition—because he knew how to dress the part. He showed up to the initial screen test wearing a Rolex submariner watch, exactly like Bond wore in his films, plus a Savile Row suit that the former bond, Connery, had ordered but never collected. Except here is where it all took a nosedive.
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After the screen test, Broccoli and his co-producer Harry Saltzman formally offered Lazenby an audition. It was the chance of a lifetime, but Lazenby's response was infamous. In a move that foreshadowed his future bad decisions, Lazenby claimed he "didn't like their attitude" when they asked him, and initially said no.
Instead, he lied and claimed he had another audition in Paris to go to. But Lazenby was about to find out just how bad Broccoli wanted him.
Alarmed, Broccoli demanded to know how much the Paris gig was paying him. A cocksure and defiant Lazenby named a price of 500 pounds a day, a huge sum for the time. But, sure that he had a star in the making, Broccoli simply replied: "Go down to the accountant and he’ll give you the money, be here tomorrow".
Well, not even George Lazenby could argue with that. The thing is, once he actually got to the audition, he went too hard.
Lazenby’s audition was what some might call “hands-on”. In fact, it was a little too hands-on. During a staged fight scene, the former model accidentally punched the film’s stunt coordinator, Yuri Borienko, square in the nose. Borienko wasn’t impressed with Lazenby’s aggression...and this slip-up had huge consequences.
While their stuntman wasn't happy, Broccoli and the other producers were actually impressed with Lazenby’s “ability to display aggression”. So much so that they fully offered Lazenby the role. The film's director Peter Hunt later said, "We wanted someone who oozed...assurance, and we think this fellow has that. Just wait til the women see him on screen”.
Unfortunately, for all their enthusiasm, the cast and crew of On Her Majesty's Secret Service would rue the day they ever met Lazenby. And his mistakes started early.
Lazenby had a lot to learn about Hollywood. While filming On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, he and the other actors received their pay in cash, and Lazenby was none too responsible about his share. In fact, the model-turned-actor actually carried his cash around in a suitcase with him on set. It was the perfect set-up for an absolute disaster.
Seeing Lazenby with all this cash to burn, fellow actor Telly Savalas invited Lazenby to a nightly poker game with crew members...and promptly fleeced the young man of all his money. It was so bad that co-producer Harry Saltzman had to track down the game, enlist himself to play, and win Lazenby’s money back from the crew.
This stunt did nothing to help Lazenby's reputation on set. However, he did have a secret weapon.
Lazenby made up for both his lack of common sense and his lack of acting skills with a willingness to do anything on set. Especially life-threatening stunts. Lazenby even suggested a scene that would have James Bond ski right off of a cliff before opening a parachute and gliding down to safety. They didn't have the budget to do it, but it did eventually make it into 1977's The Spy Who Loved Me.
Still, this wasn't enough for Lazenby. He had to go and push even more boundaries, to even more disastrous results.
Lazenby was a rough and tumble Aussie, and he couldn’t have cared less about finding the money to perform his crazy stunt idea. He just did other crazy stunts. According to some accounts, Lazenby broke his arm while skiing the slopes. The film’s producers were irate with Lazenby for setting back the filming schedule, but they found a strange solution.
Lazenby and his co-stars managed to film around his broken arm, but only just. In one scene, Lazenby had to drape a coat over his arm to hide it, and a henchman had to remove it when the time came because the Bond actor couldn’t do it himself. In fact, the actor playing the henchman in that scene was none other than stuntman Yuri Borienko.
Borienko's nose was probably still broken thanks to Lazenby's punch...but Lazenby really had to worry about his other co-stars.
Lazenby was all for fun and games on set—broken arms notwithstanding. One day, the debonaire rogue decided to play a prank on fellow co-star, Angela Scoular. In a scene that the actors had blocked, Scoular was supposed to write her hotel room number on the inside of Lazenby’s bare thigh. And that gave Lazenby ideas. Naughty ideas.
Lazenby and a crew member came up with a “porky” prank to play on Scoular. They heated up a sausage and, when time came to shoot the racy scene, Lazenby placed the sausage between his legs, under the kilt he was wearing. Scoular, ever the professional, didn’t react to Lazenby’s “meaty” joke. But these pranks escalated quickly.
Sometimes, Lazenby’s hijinks cost his co-stars dearly. While filming a scene with Bernard Lee, who plays M in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Lazenby began joking around while on horseback. The roughhousing caused Lee to fall from his horse and tear open his leg on a fence. Whether coincidence or not, everything soon took a much darker turn.
Throughout filming, Lazenby began to notice a disturbing trend. According to the actor, the film’s director Peter Hunt was notoriously cold to him, refusing to give him any pointers on set. In fact, Hunt allegedly only spoke to Lazenby through his assistant and instructed the other actors to keep a distance from him. This went from bad to worse.
Even before the film hit theaters, the critical response to On Her Majesty’s Secret Service wasn’t great. After all, critics and audiences alike were skeptical of anyone replacing the original James Bond actor, Sean Connery. But even worse, Lazenby’s own agents believed that the whole Bond franchise would soon be Hollywood history.
Before producers knew it, Lazenby betrayed them.
After filming, Lazenby returned to Australia for some rest and relaxation. At the time, he was supposed to follow up On Her Majesty's Secret Service with The Man With The Golden Gun. Yet despite this, all anyone heard was Lazenby badmouthing the Bond franchise, complaining that “The producers made me feel like I was mindless". Soon, it all came to an ugly climax.
As the film premiered, Lazenby crossed a line he could never go back from. After growing a very un-Bond bushy beard and sporting long hair, he told the world: “Bond is a brute…I've already put him behind me. I will never play him again". Well, that's what Lazenby claimed anyway. As we'll see, his co-stars had other ideas about what caused his resignation.
Either way, it was a scorched Earth move from beginning to end...and the world reacted accordingly.
Although the film was a huge box office success, many critics panned Lzaneby's portrayal of Bond, saying—to absolutely no one’s surprise—that he wasn’t a great actor. Lazenby's co-stars seconded the sentiment, with long-time "Q" portrayer Desmond Llewelyn spitting bitterly, "I draw a veil over the chap. How can you expect someone who's never acted before ... to take on a leading role"?
With more enemies than friends, Lazenby waltzed out of his contract with 007. It didn't take him long to realize he might have made a mistake.
After giving up the opportunity of a lifetime, Lazenby struggled to find work. Accurate or not, everyone was now labeling him as "difficult", and no one wanted to touch him. Eventually, he fell in with a beatnik crowd and tried his hand at experimental filmmaking with 1971’s Universal Soldier. It backfired on him entirely.
Lazenby acted in, produced, and partly directed the film...to zero fanfare. It was a flop, and Lazenby was lower than ever. He did get one thing out of it, though.
Lazenby met Chrissie Townson on the set of Universal Soldier. If it was at all possible for Lazenby to love someone other than himself, he fell for Townson. After filming, the two went sailing around the world without a care in the world for months on end. Lazenby might have thought he was climbing back to the top, but the vacation was short-lived.
At the end of their world tour, Lazenby and Townson discovered that she was pregnant, and Lazenby's priorities abruptly shifted. In a wake-up call he probably should have had years ago, Lazenby realized he needed to settle down, marry Townson, and start making a living for his new son, a boy they named Zachary. It didn't go the way he wanted.
After turning down Bond, one of the only places Lazenby could find work was in low-budget Italian movies, which is how he landed the lead in the 1972 Italian film, Who Saw Her Die? Yet the set was more like a nightmare than salvation. Desperate to prove himself, Lazenby lost 35 pounds for the role, though he did earn some critical kudos in the process.
But by then, nobody could have known that Lazenby was already way past the end of his rope.
Just a year after making Who Saw Her Die? and with a young family at home, Lazenby made a disturbing confession. With all his sailing around the world and not making money on films, he had already blown through his entire salary from On Her Majesty's Secret Service. And that wasn't even his most chilling revelation.
Lazenby claimed that the stresses of playing Bond, not to mention the ostracization that came after, had driven him into no fewer than two mental breakdowns and ignited his alcoholism. Throughout it all, though, Lazenby never admitted regret to leaving Bond behind. Conversely, he said if he had stayed, he'd be "locked up by now...You need mental conditioning to play Bond".
Starting from the bottom once more, Lazenby turned his eyes to a new endeavor. One that should have given him a comeback, but ended in utter tragedy.
In 1973, Lazenby traveled to Hong Kong to meet with the legendary martial arts star Bruce Lee about making a movie together. Instead, he got a cruel surprise. The very day that he was supposed to meet Lee for lunch to chat about the production was the day that Lee collapsed and infamously died at the tender age of 32.
Clearly, Lazenby had the worst luck in Hollywood and Hong Kong, but the trip did give him a new idea.
Despite this bad break, Lazenby did manage to impress the martial arts world in Hong Kong. They probably heard about his love for skiing off of cliffs. Lazenby went on to star in several martial arts films in Hong Kong between 1974 and 1976. Unfortunately, they would nearly cost him his life—and that wasn't all they cost him.
On the set of the 1974’s The Shrine of Ultimate Bliss, Lazenby had a terrifyingly close call. The actor experienced an allergic reaction to shampoo at his hotel, and the suspicious shampoo caused temporary alopecia—i.e., Lazenby lost patches of hair. Fortunately, it all grew back, just in time for Lazenby to make some dangerous decisions.
On the set of 1975’s The Man From Hong Kong, Lazenby went back to his old stuntman ways. The former James Bond star insisted on performing a stunt where his jacket catches fire. The stunt went horribly wrong when he was unable to get the blazing jacket off in time, and it scorched parts of his arms before they could put it out.
Eventually, Lazenby returned to Hollywood following his Hong Kong stint. This is when he hit rock bottom. He struggled so hard to find work that he had to take out an ad in Variety, offering his acting services. He later told a reporter, “If I could get a TV series or a good movie, I swear I'd do it for nothing”. And Lazenby thought he knew who to blame.
There might have been a good reason for Lazenby’s inability to find work in Hollywood. Although everyone was aware of his general "difficult" reputation, Lazenby believed there was one man in particular closing all the doors for him: Bond co-producer Harry Saltzman. As Lazenby remembered it, "He said he'd make sure I never got another job”. But Saltzman wasn’t the only one.
Albert Broccoli had also given Lazenby his start in the industry—and Broccoli held much the same grudge as Saltzman. When Lazenby returned to Hollywood in 1978, Broccoli called him “my biggest mistake in 16 years". At another point, Broccoli sneered about Lazenby that "one could wish he had less [bravado] and more charm".
But Broccoli and Saltzman might have wished they'd kept quiet. There was a horror coming Lazenby's way.
For a long while, Lazenby's union with Chrissie Townson was the best thing he had going. Not only was her family wealthy and able to help support him during the lean years, but after their son Zachary they had another child together, a girl they named Melanie. Then suddenly, everything got ripped away from Lazenby in one fell swoop.
Lazenby and Townson’s eldest child, Zachary, was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor at a young age. Unlike Lazenby’s own Lazarus-like resurrection when he was a boy, Zachary wasn’t going to make it. He passed at the age of 19 and, by 1995, the heartbreak was too much for Lazenby and Townson and they filed for divorce.
Years later, in 2002, Lazenby thought that he might have found love once again and he married former professional tennis player Pam Shriver. The marriage lasted longer than Lazenby’s tenure as Bond, but that’s not saying much. Shriver filed for divorce in 2008, citing “irreconcilable differences”, although they did have three children together.
In popular culture, the name “George Lazenby” has become synonymous with squandered opportunities. But it seems like only Lazenby is laughing. He once said, “I burnt some bridges behind me, and it was fun, really. I'm sort of glad I did it and I know I won't have to do it again. I can look back and laugh because I didn't hurt anyone—except myself”.
Lazenby's childhood illness fundamentally changed him as a person, and he came through his childhood illness with a new lease on life. In the 2017 documentary Becoming Bond, a 77-year-old Lazenby reflected on his brush with the Grim Reaper. “Subconsciously,” he said, “there’s a part of me that said I’d better get on with life”. Maybe this is part of what made him drop the Bond role in the first place.
Later on in his career, Lazenby revealed that he frequently consulted with an astrologer. The prophetic seer told Lazenby exactly what his star map said. He recalled, “she said I would become famous, and that there would be big problems for a couple of years. Then she assured me that I would be back at the top of my profession”.
When he was still starting out, Lazenby’s dashing good looks attracted the attention of Italian filmmakers. In a little teaser for what lay ahead—or in a really coincidental stroke of fate—the Aussie landed an uncredited bit part in an Italian film. The plot? It was a spoof of the popular James Bond films at the time.
In On Her Majesty's Secret Service, none other than Dame Diana Rigg plays the main love interest and Bond Girl opposite Lazenby. But their relationship quickly soured. Rigg didn't take to Lazenby's macho-man antics or his apparently high and cocky opinion of himself. As time went on, their feud reached ridiculous proportions.
Diana Rigg was no Lazenby fan, and she had a surprising perspective on the reason why he quit Bond. According to Rigg, Lazenby was simply unwilling to take any advice from the more seasoned producers while on set. She once said the headstrong actor couldn't "bear to do an apprenticeship" under the veteran crew.
As filming continued, this bad blood began to hemorrhage.
Diana Rigg was not one to be messed with. She made sure he got some karma for his arrogance on set. Allegedly, Rigg used to eat fistfuls of garlic before scenes in which she had to kiss Lazenby. In the middle of an interview, Rigg once yelled out to Lazenby, “I’m having garlic for lunch, darling! I hope you are too!”
In the years that followed, Hollywood insiders tried to play down the tensions between Rigg and Lazenby. They claimed that the whole garlic stunt was just a joke blown out of proportion. The truth, however, may be much different. Rigg’s later comments showed that the hatred was real. “I can no longer cater for his obsession with himself,” Rigg once said. “He is utterly, unbelievably…bloody impossible”.
Time has been kinder to Lazenby than he could have hoped for. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service remains a Bond fan-favorite, and his “wooden” performance has aged well. Years after the film’s release, Lazenby got the approval of the only person whose opinion really mattered. While eating at a restaurant, Sean Connery approached him and, in true Bond fashion, he had just the right words to say.
The legendary actor calmly shook his hand and told him, “You were good”.
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