Pierce Brosnan is the epitome of the suave, debonaire gentleman, and as such, his undeniable charm helped win him the iconic role of James Bond. But behind the sharp tuxedo and the piercing gaze, Brosnan's backstory is far darker and more heartbreaking than most people know. From his rough childhood to his tragic losses, Brosnan's strength proves his heroism both on and off the screen.
Right out of the gates, Pierce Brosnan’s life was no fairytale. Born in Ireland, on May 16, 1953, Brosnan was just a baby when his father abandoned him. Then, when he was only four, he lost another parent: His mother, Margaret Pierce, left him to look for work in London, leaving him to the care of his grandparents. Tragically, after both his grandparents passed, Brosnan ended up all alone, languishing in a boarding house.
But this was only the beginning of his very solitary childhood
When Brosnan was 11 years old, he and his mother were finally reunited. When she brought him over to Scotland, the move upended Brosnan's entire life. Not only did he have a brand new home, but he also had a brand new stepfather, William Carmichael. In fact, it was Carmichael who took him to his very first James Bond film, Goldfinger.
Little did Brosnan know, the legendary character of James Bond would one day become his destiny. At the time, however, Brosnan's main focus was simply surviving the trials and tribulations of his teen years.
Although Brosnan was delighted to be a part of a stable family, he still struggled to find his way. When his family moved to England, poor Brosnan felt hardship nipping at his heels. At his new school, the boys were difficult to gel with; they taunted him, targeting him for his towering height and his Irishness. He was miserable and felt more like an outsider than ever before.
In an attempt to quell his sadness, young Brosnan discovered the most unique hobby ever.
Never very fond of school, Brosnan decided to become a painter at 16 and started training at Saint Martin’s School of Art. One day, on his way to school, he saw a fire eater teaching his craft to others and was immediately intrigued. After that, he worked on honing two new skills—fire-eating and acting. He took his talents to the street, performing for passers-by, and even began fire-eating for the circus.
Brosnan's hard work paid off, and when the Drama Centre of London accepted him into its fold, he felt like he had finally found the right path. After floundering for so long, the only thing separating him from stardom was a stroke of luck.
After graduating in 1975, Brosnan started working as an assistant stage manager. Not only that, but he also landed an understudy role in Tennessee Williams’ The Red Devil Battery Sign. As luck would have it, the main lead backed out and Williams wanted to vet the understudy himself. When Brosnan found out about this opportunity—he couldn't believe it.
In remembering this fateful day, Brosnan said, “I got the call: ‘Tennessee wants to see you now.’ I tore out of the flat and hopped on a bus. The bus was going too slow, so I got off and ran. My heart was pounding–Tennessee Williams wants to see me."
In one of the most surreal moments of his life, Brosnan arrived at Tennesse Williams' apartment and proceeded to read through some of the play's most poignant scenes. Brosnan nailed it, and Williams let him keep the role. This one play changed the course of his entire career; it was the pivotal stepping stone he'd never forget.
And, if there was anyone in his corner, it was Williams himself.
From the moment he heard Pierce Brosnan read, Tennesee William recognized the young actor's star potential. The Irishman’s performance impressed him so much that he sent him a glowing telegram, which said “Thank God for you, my dear boy.” But that wasn't all. He also managed to impress the famous Italian director Franco Zeffirelli, who approached him with another dazzling opportunity: A part in a West End play.
Brosnan was off to a successful start, but his heart wanted more…such as the role of a secret agent perhaps?
Despite flourishing on the stage, Brosnan’s deepest desire was to become a film actor. He started getting some small film roles, working his way to the top little by little. His hopes were only bolstered as he landed bigger roles, even starring in some prestigious British TV shows like the BBC's miniseries Nancy Astor. Soon, he would be even closer to realizing his dream.
Finally, Brosnan's dreams came true: America came calling. The series was called The Manions of Ireland, and Brosnan was offered the lead role. Set against the backdrop of the Irish Famine, the character seemed tailor-made for the ambitious Irishman, and he accepted the part without a second thought. When the plane landed in America he felt like he’d made it.
“I thought, by God, I’ve done it. It’s my time and I’m gonna take it by the throat and fly with it.” And just as his career took flight, so did his love life.
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Brosnan met the woman of his dreams while he was still acting in stage plays, and the story behind their meet-cute is so awkward—it's actually endearing. The first time Brosnan met Australian actress, Cassandra Harris, he didn't make the best first impression. He'd ridden his bike straight from his acting gig to his friend's house, and he arrived looking utterly "ridiculous," with his rolled cuffs and slicked-back hair.
However, when he set eyes on Harris—he felt his heart fall through his feet. Her beauty completely bowled him over, and at that moment, Brosnan didn’t even think of “attempting to woo her...[he] just wanted to enjoy her beauty and who she was.”
Harris, on the other hand, wasn't quite as enthused with Brosnan as he was with her. In fact, when reminiscing on their introduction, she remembered him as a "funny-looking man" with a "short haircut." But once she started talking to him, she realized that they had so much in common. They could talk for hours about anything and everything. Literature, music, acting—nothing was off the table.
Their romance was inevitable, and soon Harris began to see Brosnan in a brand new light.
In the end, Harris couldn’t resist Brosnan’s boyish charm. But although they had a strong connection, there was one glaring problem: Harris was married with two children. It was only after her divorce that she and Brosnan were finally free to take their relationship to the next level. They began seriously dating, and in no time at all, Brosnan and Harris had fallen deeply in love. After that, there was no slowing down.
Before long, Brosnan and Harris decided to put down some roots. They bought a house in Wimbledon together and eventually tied the knot in December 1980. He also became a father to Harris's children Christopher and Charlotte, legally adopting them after their dad passed away in 1986. With the support of a loving wife and family, Brosnan could take on the world.
Brosnan still hadn't given up his dreams of Hollywood, and Harris was certain that her husband was going to be a star. Together, they came up with a brilliant plan: They applied for a home improvement loan, but instead of using the money for renovations, they spent it on two plane tickets to Los Angeles. It was a sneaky ploy, but it was a risk they were willing to take. Next stop: Hollywood.
Once in America, Brosnan soon won the role that would make him a household name: Remington Steele. Interestingly enough, the director had initially intended the character to be the comedic sidekick, but once he realized Brosnan's popularity, he changed his mind and made him the lead. Of course, playing the role of Remington Steele helped cement Brosnan's reputation as a handsome leading man, and as a result, an exciting rumor began to circulate.
Brosnan always dreamed of playing James Bond, but it was his wife who actually got to work in a Bond movie before him. She played Countess Lisl in For Your Eyes Only, and introduced him to producer Albert Broccoli, hoping her husband’s charm would win him the Bond role after Roger Moore retired. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen...At least not then.
For Brosnan, Remington Steele was both a blessing and a curse. At the time, everybody believed that Pierce Brosnan was destined to be the next James Bond. As these rumors gained momentum, Remington Steele saw a burst in popularity, which meant the producers renewed it for another season. Unfortunately for Brosnan, the renewal ruined his best-laid plans.
The result, simply put: He couldn’t play Bond until his contract to play Steele ended. If that’s not a bummer, I don’t know what is. Even though Brosnan let Bond slip through his fingers, this wasn't the end of the road.
Despite some career disappointments, Brosnan still reveled in his family life, and before long, both he and Harris were expecting their first child. Baby Sean was born in 1983, and Brosnan was ecstatic. Unfortunately, joy and pain go hand in hand in life, and this was no exception. Life would soon throw a heartbreaking curveball at the Brosnan-Harris clan.
In 1987, an awful tragedy came to darken Brosnan's doorway. For work, Brosnan had to travel to India and decided to take his family with him. But while they were there, Harris began to wilt beneath persistent fatigue and problems with her stomach. Upon arriving home, she went to the doctor and received some shocking news: The diagnosis was ovarian cancer...
Just like that, Brosnan's world flipped upside down.
Brosnan supported Harris every step of the way as she battled her way through ovarian cancer. For the next four years, Harris did everything in her power to beat the disease, but sadly, in December 1991, she couldn't hold on any longer. She passed, leaving Brosnan and her children reeling. Although grief-stricken, Brosnan knew he had to be strong for little Sean, who was only eight, and Christopher and Charlotte too.
The loss of Harris changed everything: “You just feel more deeply...You hug more deeply, you love more deeply.” Brosnan's grieving process had only just begun. Even as darkness threatened to pull him under, he clung to the light of her memory.
It was sheer chance that brought Brosnan and Harris to their Malibu home, two years after her diagnosis. A couple of days before they first viewed the house, she'd had chemotherapy, and Brosnan worried that she wouldn't be up to the visit. But as soon as they stepped through the front door, the delight in her eyes put him at ease. They decided to buy the place immediately, and he reveled in the joy it gave her in her last days.
Even after her death, Brosnan continued to feel his wife's presence, continuing to talk to her whenever something big happened. After all, she was the reason he pursued some of his greatest roles.
Brosnan credits Harris for making him the man, father, and actor he became. Even throughout her cancer treatment, she encouraged him to accept roles that she felt certain would do well. Because of her, he took on roles in both The Lawnmower Man and Live Wire. She never wanted him to stop acting for her sake, and because of her love, Brosnan never forgot her: "She’s forever embedded in every fiber of my being. She’s there with me every day. I was so blessed to have met someone like that."
Two years after Harris’s passing, Brosnan got a chance to play a supporting role in what would become a superhit: Mrs. Doubtfire. The director originally intended Tim Allen to play Stu, a villainous and unlikeable character. However, when Allen turned down the role, it went to Brosnan. As a result, the writers significantly changed Stu's character to better suit Brosnan's caring, family man personality.
Brosnan had a great time shooting the film, and some of his fondest memories included the lovable Robin Williams.
The first time Brosnan set eyes on Robins Williams he was in the makeup chair, getting his iconic makeup applied for Mrs. Doubtfire. It was a hilarious sight. Dressed in a Hawaiian shirt, with his hairy arms peeking out, the actor turned toward Brosnan with the head of Mrs. Doubtfire and greeted him in character. He later remembered, “[Robin] was brilliant. Sally was gorgeous. She and I got on like gas on fire. It was so delightfully enchanting.”
But despite the easy camaraderie he experienced on the set of Mrs. Doubtfire, Brosnan wasn't always everyone's cup of tea.
Brosnan may not look like someone who’s too hard to get along with, but his co-star from Remington Steele would disagree. Stephanie Zimbalist and Brosnan did not like one other. Not only did they not talk to each other at all when out of character, but they also couldn’t even exchange a civil “good morning” when they met on set every day. The awkwardness was unbearable.
Fortunately, Stephanie seemed to be the exception to the rule. In fact, Brosnan had many supporters in his corner, all rooting for him to become the next big thing.
Mrs. Doubtfire’s director, Chris Columbus, felt Brosnan would fit the role of Agent 007 like a glove and couldn’t believe it when he learned the latter had to give it up because of Remington Steele. It was pure luck then that MGM called Columbus to tell him they were looking for a new Bond. He wasted no time in recommending Brosnan, and as they say, the rest is history.
There aren’t many people who get a second chance to accept the role of their dreams, but Brosnan did. He signed a three-film Bond deal with the company in 1994 and debuted as Agent 007 in GoldenEye the very next year. People loved Brosnan as Bond. He was suave, smooth, and so unbelievably charming that it's no wonder that his first Bond flick became the highest-grossing Bond film of its time.
He brought some of his personal flair to the character, and it definitely paid off.
Pierce Brosnan was positively swoon-worthy as James Bond, but his stature was definitely different than all of his predecessors. In GoldenEye, his tailors discovered that he was the lightest actor to have ever played Bond. However, by the time he filmed his fourth Bond film, seven years later, Brosnan became the heaviest actor to perform as 007. And when it came to the costume, well, the tuxedo reigned supreme.
James Bond's legendary look—his stunning tailored tuxedo—helped define the character. Consequently, Brosnan had to hold up his end of the deal when it came to respecting those perfectly pressed lapels...His contract forbade him from wearing tuxedos in any other film. After all, they couldn't just have James Bond waltzing into every movie Brosnan starred in....obviously.
But as much as he enjoyed playing this iconic character, Brosnan had aspirations that went above and beyond his acting career.
Brosnan was more than just a suave secret agent and Hollywood heartthrob. In fact, he wasn't afraid to take his career to new heights, and in 1906, he founded Irish DreamTime, his own production company, with an old friend—Beau St. Clair. They worked together as friends and partners, and soon, this dynamic duo reaped the benefits of their risky venture.
Their first film as producers was The Nephew, but it was their second one, The Thomas Crown Affair, that went on to become a critical and commercial success.
Sometimes the stars align in your favor, and in 1994, Brosnan certainly got a taste of serendipitous timing. Not only did he land one of the most pivotal roles of his career, but he also got another chance at finding true love. After being a widower for three years, it was finally time for Brosnan to move on. Luckily for him, Cupid was waiting just around the corner.
While visiting Mexico, Brosnan met the dark-haired beauty, Keely Shaye Smith, an American journalist. He started dating her immediately, and as the sparks began to fly, he knew that he'd found someone very special.
Considering the torment of his solitary childhood, it's no surprise that Brosnan delighted in having a large family. He’d already proven himself to be an excellent father to his and Harris’s children, and when he welcomed sons Dylan and Paris in 1997 and 2001, his heart grew twofold. Brosnan took fatherhood seriously and his love helped cultivate his family's happy home life.
But when it came to completing the fairytale, Brosnan went one step further...
Brosnan was certain he would never find lasting love after Harris’s passing, but all that changed after he met Keely Shaye Smith. In fact, he calls her his “North Star” because she helped him move on from the past. And then, after she gave him two more children, he decided to make their commitment to one another official. For the second time, Brosnan proposed marriage.
But as romantic as their story is—it only gets better.
In 2001, Brosnan and Smith met each other at the altar and made their everlasting vows. Their wedding venue was a historical building—Ballintubber Abbey in Ireland. Today, this gorgeous building is over 800 years old. For Brosnan, the Abbey was the perfect place for him to return to his Irish roots while taking his new bride's hand and walking with her toward a shared future.
Now, after 20 years of being married, he still feels Smith is the only woman for him.
Always conscious that he wouldn’t be doing Bond for the rest of his life, Brosnan still didn't see the end of the road coming. He definitely felt that he could easily do one or two more movies as Agent 007. So, When the producers called to tell him that they planned to go "a different way," Brosnan was thrown for a loop and said that he felt, "kicked to the kerb."
However, forever the gentleman, the old Bond still bowed out with grace.
Always taking the high road, Brosnan didn’t let his dismissal from the Bond franchise embitter him. He wished all the best to Daniel Craig and said he was certain he’d do a great job. Later, when asked for an opinion on the fledgling Bond replacement, Brosnan had glowing reviews at the ready and called Craig "brilliant."
Now that this epic chapter had come to a close, the actor was free to take on new and exciting roles. And that's exactly what he did.
Brosnan decided to dip his toes into the world of musicals. Why? Well, there was one very sweet incentive. Mamma Mia! had an all-star cast and there was one woman he very much wanted to work with. He admitted that he didn’t really pay attention to the script or his role and agreed to do the film as soon as he found out it starred the uber-talented Meryl Streep.
He would have signed anything with her in it because he remembered her as the “gorgeous blonde” whom he’d “fancied terribly in Drama school.” But when it came to singing, Brosnan didn't exactly hit the mark.
Part of Brosnan's preparation for Mamma Mia! involved walking up and down the coast, practicing his solo number. Unfortunately, his vocals didn’t quite get the kind of attention he might have been hoping for. The critics were ruthless; they compared his singing to a “water buffalo,” a “donkey,” and an injured “raccoon.”
Luckily for Brosnan, his undeniable charm swooped in to save the day. But as likable and debonaire as the actor is, he certainly isn't immune to making some seriously questionable choices.
Brosnan worked with director Roman Polanski to make The Ghost Writer, a political thriller. The film did really well critically, but his decision to work with Polanski invited controversy because the US had banned the director for a non-consensual intimacy conviction. At the time, Brosnan admitted that he took the role based on his respect for Polanski's artistry, saying "I didn't let the rest of his life influence my choice."
However, looking back on this decision today, Brosnan may have had a change of heart.
The #MeToo movement changed Hollywood, opening up the conversation about the horrendous conditions for women in the workplace. Living through that, and hearing so many victims share their stories, Brosnan looks back on The Ghost Writer with a new perspective: "I don’t know if, in this climate, I would have made the same decision, the same choice. These are dangerous times and it’s a very toxic world."
However, despite his looming doubts and questions, there is one thing that Brosnan will never turn his back.
Although he left Ireland when he was only 11, Brosnan is an Irishman first and foremost. He's amused at having played the very English James Bond because he believes that he brought a lot of Irish "sentimentality," "passion," and "melancholia" to the role. In fact, he thirsts for a life in the country, and hopes to one day return to his roots and buy a house in Ireland.
Still, Brosnan's passion for life extends beyond his nationalism, and most refreshingly, he harbors a passion that most don't know about.
Before he’d decided his passion lay in acting, Brosnan enjoyed using his hands to make art. When his world turned upside down after Harris’s diagnosis, he started painting in an attempt to navigate his all-encompassing grief. Since then, painting has been his constant hobby and method of relaxation. And he uses it for a good cause too.
Brosnan has always used his influence and resources to support causes important to him. He donates the profits from his painting sales to women’s health, environmental, and children’s charities. After Harris passed, he became a strong advocate for cancer awareness. He feels very strongly about the environment, and for building a better world.
He’s also been an Ambassador for UNICEF Ireland for the past 20 years. But when it comes to his deep passion for activism, Brosnan has a steadfast supporter.
It isn’t just Brosnan who wants to make the world a better place. Keely Shaye Smith, his wife, is also an enthusiastic and involved partner. The couple works with several conservation organizations and has produced a documentary, Poisoning Paradise, on how experimental pesticide test sites are impacting the environment in Hawaii.
Sadly, not everyone has been a pillar of support for Brosnan. On the contrary, a certain family member has caused the actor a world of heartache.
Although Brosnan strived to be an involved and caring father to his adopted children, he faced some tough situations because of his older adopted son, Christopher. Unfortunately, things got very hard for the boy after his mother’s passing and he began to spiral down into the dangerous world of drugs. Brosnan tried to help him make his way out of the treacherous quicksand of addiction but kept failing in his efforts.
After a time, he realized he’d have to make a difficult choice.
Brosnan eventually cut Christopher off completely. Although it pained him, he made the decision in order to maintain his own sanity and peace of mind: “I had to say, ‘Go. Get busy living, or get busy dying.’” He prays his son will recover and find his way back someday. His other adopted child, Charlotte, never gave him a hard time, but fate had a heartbreaking plan in store for her.
Brosnan and his family learned to overcome the trauma of Harris’s passing and live with their grief, so they felt devastated to learn they’d have to go through it all again when Charlotte’s doctors diagnosed her with ovarian cancer too. She was just 41 when she passed, leaving behind two beautiful children. Brosnan admitted that “sorrow becomes an indelible part of your psyche” when you watch your loved ones suffer.
To Brosnan, Charlotte would always be his "funny, wonderful daughter," and it tore him apart to watch from the sidelines as cancer claimed her life. Still, when it came to losing the ones he loved the most, Brosnan's nightmare was far from over.
Three years after Charlotte's passing, tragedy came knocking on Brosnan’s door again. This time he didn’t lose a family member, but someone who was close enough to be family. His longtime friend Beau St. Clair also received an ovarian cancer diagnosis. She passed in 2016, after ten years of battling the disease. Brosnan mourned the passing of his “dearest friend of 30 years,” whom he also called the sister he never had.
There’s no denying that such tragedies are heartbreaking, but if these harrowing chapters taught Brosnan anything—it was the importance of treasuring the ones you love while they're still around.
While he keeps the people he’s lost in his heart and his thoughts, Brosnan is very appreciative and proud of his sons. His son Sean is an actor and filmmaker himself and is married with a son too. And both his younger sons, Dylan and Paris are chips off the old block. They both model and attend film school, hoping to follow in their father’s footsteps one day.
Being a steadfast father has always been important to Brosnan, and his dedication to his boys may well have stemmed from his lonely childhood and absent father.
The world can be a small place when you’re so famous. That’s exactly how Brosnan ended up meeting his biological father while shooting for an episode of Remington Steele. The man just strolled up to Brosnan and introduced himself. To say Brosnan felt surprised would be an understatement. But oddly enough, meeting his father was a rather underwhelming affair.
He'd always imagined his father to be this larger-than-life character, but instead, he described John Brosnahan as "a man of medium stature, pushed-back silver hair, flinty eyes, and a twizzled jaw." More than anything, he wished their reunion had been a private affair. However, despite his father's past transgressions, Brosnan never resented him...and for one tear-jerking reason.
Perhaps one of the reasons why Brosnan was such a good father to Harris’s kids was that he found a great father figure in his own stepfather. William Carmichael was always good to the young Brosnan. When, he too, got sick, Brosnan stayed with him throughout his last days and greatly grieved his passing, canceling his commitment at the IFTA Awards because “family comes first.”
In describing the man who helped raise him, he said, "I have a great father-stepfather in William. He is someone I look up to. He is a hero of sorts."
Nominated twice for the Golden Globe Awards, Brosnan also has a Hollywood star on the Walk of Fame. People magazine voted him as the “Sexiest Man Alive” as well as one of the “50 Most Beautiful People in the World.” He also has an honorary OBE, for his contribution to British Cinema. But even at age 68, Brosnan has no plans of stopping.
He wishes to act and paint until he no longer can, and dreams of a better world in the future. In fact, his sons call him a dreamer, and he’s happy to accept the title because most of his greatest achievements began as a spark of inspiration—a dream.
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