Diane Cilento pictured at Noosa about five years ago.
Diane Cilento pictured at Noosa about five years ago. Nicholas Falconer

Diane Cilento dies age 79

A FORMER Sunshine Coast actress and performing arts identity who was once married to actor Sean Connery has died at the age of 79.

Diane Cilento was born in Mooloolaba to a well regarded medical family and decided to become an actress, graduating from London's Royal Academy of Dramatic Art.

She went on to win international acclaim  during the 1950s and 1960s.

Ms Cilento won a Critics Choice Award for her theatre role in Tiger at the Gates in 1956 and earning an Oscar nomination in 1963 for her role as Molly in Tom Jones.

Ms Cilento starred with Charlton Heston in the 1965 classic The Agony and the Ecstasy and with Paul Newman in the 1967 western film Hombre.

In 1962 she gained celebrity status as the wife of James Bond actor Sean Connery. It was her second marriage.

Connery was a regular visitor to Mudjimba Island but contrary to earlier reports never owned it or had the lease.

The couple, however, spent time on the island during their marriage between 1962 and 1973.

Mudjimba Island is now part of the Maroochy River Conservation Park.

Ms Cilento had a son, Jason, with Connery before divorcing from the actor in 1973.

In 1985, she married Anthony Shaffer, who wrote the script of The Wicker Man.

She met him when she appeared in the film in 1973, and he joined her when she returned to Queensland in 1975.

In the 1980s she moved to Mossman, north of Cairns in far north Queensland, and established the outdoor theatre, the Karnak Playhouse.

The ABC reported that she died in the Cairns Base Hospital last night.

Premier Anna Bligh joined those paying tribute today.

"Born and raised on the Sunshine Coast, Ms Cilento won acclaim as an international actress in 1950s and 1960s," Ms Bligh said.

"In the 1980s she moved to Far North Queensland and opened the Karnak Playhouse.

"The theatre was damaged during this year's natural disasters, but true to her tenacious resolve that the show must go on, it reopened this August with a performance of La Traviata by Oz Opera."

Premier Bligh said Diane Cilento made a valuable contribution to the arts scene in the far north and across the whole state.

"While she was originally known as a glamorous international film star, her work in later years in the far north showed her commitment to the arts.

"She appeared on stage in Brisbane a number of times with the Queensland Theatre Company including in the spectacular production The Three Legends of Kra as part of QPAC¹s Opening Celebrations in April 1985.

"Many Queenslanders had the pleasure of visiting the Karnak Playhouse for a variety of productions from opera to Brisbane trio The Kransky Sisters.

"The theatre featured an open air amphitheatre which created a magnificent atmosphere for a wide range of theatre.

"I know that Ms Cilento will be sorely missed by many in the industry and I offer my sincere condolences to her family, friends and all those who enjoyed her important contribution to the arts here in Queensland."

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