On this day in 1964, the British author and journalist Ian Fleming, creator of James Bond, the world’s most famous fictional spy, dies of a heart attack at age 56 in Kent, England. Fleming’s series of novels about the debonair Agent 007, based in part on their dashing author’s real-life experiences, spawned one of the most lucrative film franchises in history.
Ian Lancaster Fleming was born into a well-to-do family in London on May 29, 1908. As an adult, he worked as a foreign correspondent, a stockbroker and a personal assistant to Britain’s director of naval intelligence during World War II–experiences that would all provide fodder for his Bond novels.
The first Bond book, Casino Royale, was published in 1953. In all, Fleming wrote 12 novels and two short story collections about Agent 007, which together sold more than 18 million copies. According to TheNew York Times: “Bond himself, Fleming said, was ‘a compound of all the secret agents and commandos I met during the war,’ but his tastes– in blondes, martinis ‘shaken, not stirred,’ expensively tailored suits, scrambled eggs, short-sleeved shirts and Rolex watches–were Fleming’s own. But not all the comparisons were ones the author liked to encourage. Bond, he said, had ‘more guts than I have’ as well as being ‘more handsome.’”
The first Bond film, Dr. No, was released in 1962; it starred the Scottish actor Sean Connery in the title role. Connery played Bond in six films altogether; From Russia With Love (1963) and Goldfinger (1964) were the only ones made during Fleming’s lifetime. Since that time, five other actors–George Lazenby, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig–have played the superspy in some two dozen films from EON Productions.
Fleming, who did much of his writing at his Jamaican home, Goldeneye, also penned a children’s book, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and several works of non-fiction. Following Fleming’s death, a string of other authors were commissioned to write Bond novels.