Forever enshrined in the footnotes of pop culture history as the second actor to play James Bond on screen - and the one with the shortest tenure in the role - George Lazenby was a former model plucked from relative obscurity to replace Sean Connery as 007 in "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" (1969). Lazenby refused to play Bond again thanks to bad career advice, leaving him to languish in relative obscurity for much of the 1970s before resurfacing as a supporting player in several television series and made-for-TV movies. He also made frequent tongue-in-cheek appearances as Bond or a Bond-like secret agent in TV movies and commercials.
Born George Robert Lazenby in Queanbeyan, New South Wales, Australia on Sept. 5, 1939, he served in the Australian Armed Special Forces and worked at several jobs in his native country - car salesman and ski instructor, among others - before departing for London in 1964. Lazenby's rugged good looks made him a natural choice for print and television modeling work - including a stint as the European Marlboro Man - and by 1968, he was reportedly the highest-paid male model on the planet. Such wide exposure brought him to the attention of film producers. He made his film debut as a "British Spy" in the Italian-made Bond spoof, "Marc Mato, Agente S.077" (known as "Espionage in Tangiers" in English-speaking countries, where Lazenby's scenes were reportedly cut by distributors).
When Sean Connery left the James Bond franchise after "You Only Live Twice" (1965), the producers cast a wide net to find a suitable replacement. After seeing Lazenby in a television commercial, producer Cubby Broccoli requested an interview and screen test. The actor scored well on both fronts - reportedly, he broke a stunt man's nose during a fight scene - and was announced as the new James Bond in the series' sixth film, "On Her Majesty's Secret Service." According to numerous interviews completed after the film's release, tensions between Lazenby, co-star Diana Rigg (who supposedly ate garlic before her love scenes with him), and director Peter Hunt made the production an uncomfortable one for all involved. Matters became worse when Lazenby's manager, Rohan O'Rahilly - later the founder of England's legendary pirate radio station Radio Caroline - persuaded him to reject a seven-picture contract and walk away from the role due to its irrelevance in the face of the growing 1960s youth culture.
Though Lazenby would later state that he never said that he would leave the role, O'Rahilly publicly announced that his client would not return as Bond before the film's premiere. Lazenby was released from his contract. The film performed admirably at the box office, though not as well as the Bond pictures starring Connery, and was the second highest grossing film of 1969. Lazenby was also nominated for a Golden Globe for Most Promising Newcomer. The laurel, and the picture itself, would be the last association with high-profile moviemaking in Lazenby's career.
Following the Bond debacle, Lazenby struggled to retain his foothold in films. He stepped as far from the 007 image as possible with his first feature after "Majesty" - an action-drama called "Universal Soldier" (1971) in which he starred as a soldier of fortune who suffers a crisis of conscience after signing on to train a band of mercenaries for an African president. Lazenby co-produced and co-wrote the picture, but the film did not have much of an impact at the box office. Newly married to newspaper heiress Christina Gannett in 1971, and the father of two young children, son Zachary and daughter Melanie, Lazenby did what so many other actors had done before him - he waded into the waters of international moviemaking, where his name and status as a former Bond lent star power to many a low-budget genre film.
Most of his efforts were forgettable, though 1972's "Who Saw Her Die?" - an eerie Italian thriller about a bereaved father (Lazenby) who discovers a conspiracy behind the facts surrounding his daughter's death - had its moments. Lazenby nearly launched a comeback by signing with Hong Kong's Golden Harvest, and would have co-starred with the legendary Bruce Lee - under whom he studied martial arts and philosophy - in his feature "Game of Death" (1978), had the martial arts superstar not died unexpectedly in 1973. Lazenby eventually completed four kung fu films in the East, but none had the international drawing power of Lee's features. In fact, Lazenby's footage was edited from "Game of Death" when it was finally released to theaters in 1978. Lazenby also popped up as an architect in "That's Armageddon!," a spoof of disaster movies featured in the Zucker Brothers' sketch comedy film, "Kentucky Fried Movie" (1977), and as a senator in Peter Bogdanovich's black comedy "Saint Jack" (1979). There were also reports that Monty Python's John Cleese wanted him to play Jesus Christ in their Biblical spoof "Life of Brian" (1979), but scheduling conflicts prevented him from taking the part.
American television offered him steady work in the late 1970s and early 1980s; most notably the terrorism drama "Evening at Byzantium" (1978). He eventually signed on to a year as a recurring character on the daytime soap "General Hospital" (ABC, 1963- ) in 1982 before becoming a series regular in the expensive syndicated primetime soap opera "Rituals" (1984-85). The series - in which he played a writer and former love interest of main vixen Tina Louise - fared poorly and was cancelled after only a year. Lazenby later returned to regular TV work on the syndicated "Superboy" (1988-1992) as the Man of Steel's father, Jor-El. Throughout this busy period, Lazenby also continued to play up his pedigree as a former Bond; he was the Aston Martin-driving "JB" in "The Return of the Man from U.N.C.L.E." (CBS, 1983), and "James" in an episode of the revived "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" (NBC/USA, 1985-87). Aside from also making regular appearances at Bond-related public events and conventions, Lazenby was briefly considered to reprise 007 when producer Kevin McClory announced "Never Say Never Again" (1983), his remake of "Thunderball" (1965), but was dropped after Sean Connery agreed to once again take up the tuxedo and martini.
Lazenby's interest in acting waned during the early 1990s. He still logged time in features and television - most notably in "Gettysburg" (1993) as General J. Johnston Pettigrew, and as the suave Mario, who listens to Sylvia Kristel's Emmanuelle recount her erotic past in a series of softcore made-for-cable films between 1992 and 1995. Lazenby also suffered a terrible personal blow during this period when his son Zachary died from brain cancer in 1994. His priorities shifted to real estate, which made him exceptionally wealthy and the owner of several expensive homes in America as well as in Hong Kong and Australia. His marriage to Gannett ended in 1999, and he later married tennis pro and sports broadcaster Pam Shriver in 2002. The couple later had three children - a son, George, born in 2004, and twins Caitlin and Samuel, born in 2005.
Lazenby's later screen appearance came at the turn of the 21st century when he appeared on several episodes of "The Pretender" (NBC, 1996-2000) and voiced The King, head of the Royal Flush gang, on the animated "Batman Beyond" (The WB, 1999-2001). Lazenby announced his official retirement from acting in 2003 in order to enjoy life with his family and his numerous pastimes, which included car and motorcycle racing and sailing. In a 2007 episode of "Where Are They Now" (Seven Network, 2006- ), an Australian TV series, he expressed an interest in returning to Australia to raise his children there.