Photo: Pierce Brosnan by Reza Vaziri (flickr)
While many consider James Bond to symbolize infallibility and perfection, the man who is famous for playing him, Pierce Brosnan, unfortunately was not able to fight off ovarian cancer for his mother in-law, wife, or daughter.
Brosnan met Cassandra in the '70s, and they had a whirlwind love affair. Soon after, the couple married.
Cassandra had had two children from a previous marriage, Charlotte and Christopher, and when their biological father died, Brosnan adopted them and they took his last name. Pierce and Cassandra also had one child of their own.
He explained how much he cared for his adopted children: "We just clicked as a family. Charlotte and Chris have just been amazing in my life."
The family would often take lavish trips and support Pierce while he was traveling for all of his exciting movie roles; however, seven years into their marriage, Cassandra discovered that she had an aggressive form of ovarian cancer, which was the same disease that had killed her mother and grandmother.
Pierce explained the difficulty: "From day 1, we really had a fight on their hands. This wasn't a shadow or a small tumor - this had invaded Cassie's being. [But she] took her destiny in her own hands with incredible courage and grace."
Pierce referenced how she would research and second-guess all of her therapies and medications, which he says is extremely important. He knows that it is a scary time for all who are plagued with the disease, but says that it is an absolute necessity to be diligent in making up your own mind in what treatment is right for you.
Cassandra dealt with four years of treatment, eight surgeries, and over a year of chemotherapy. The family moved to Malibu about two years into her battle, and enjoyed decorating their new home with her children in between therapies.
Losing his girls
There came a time in 1991 when the couple realized that she was reaching the end. He explained the painful situation: "I was in a helpless state of ... confusion and anger. She was comforting me. She said, 'please, darling, don't worry. It's just a life winding down.' What can you do? Up until then there was always something, some new treatment. But then the options got fewer and fewer. At the end, Cassie didn't want to be resuscitated [by] any machines."
Unfortunately, Cassandra died in 1991, and in 2013, he lost their daughter Charlotte - both to ovarian cancer.
He explains how unfair it felt right after he lost his wife, "there is an incredible cruelty in it all, losing a person you shared everything with. This is the first time in my life I've ever experienced bereavement, and it's overwhelming."
Nevertheless, he continued to be there for his children, and referenced how important Cassandra was on his life, "she has made me the man I am, the actor I am, the father I am. She's forever embedded in every fiber of my being. She's there with me every day. I was so blessed to have someone like that."
While he handled it with poise, it was incredibly excruciating when 22 years after his wife's death, he was struck by heartbreak again when their daughter Charlotte died of the same disease. She was 41 years old, had two children, and had just married the love of her life weeks before. Pierce explained, "Charlotte fought her cancer with grace and humanity, courage and dignity. Our hearts are heavy with the loss of our beautiful dear girl."
It was hard for him to cope with losing such an important person in his life for the second time, to the same disease. It was endlessly infuriating that in the 22 year-interim no treatment had arisen that could save his daughter. However, his children and his current wife, Keely Shaye Smith, helped each other through coping with the immense grief.
A friend of Charlotte's refers to the fact that her children, Bella and Lucas, were around the same age as Christopher and Charlotte when they lost their mother. Her friend explains the special bond they had: "to their mummy, Bella and Lucas were absolutely the pinnacle. They have always got that for the rest of their life, that their mum just worshipped them. People would ask her why she didn't move into acting, and she would always say, 'No, this is my family.' She wanted to give her family as much love as she could. She was totally devoted to them."
Charlotte's presence was one that was hard to lose, as they referred to her as their "custodian of laughter." She was bubbly, goofy, and gorgeous. One of Brosnan's closest friends explained, "Pierce wrote to me after she died that the most intense memory that he had was of always being able to make Charlotte laugh. He wanted to be able to make her laugh again."
A history of sorrow
However, his hardships did not begin there. When he was young, his father left his family when he was just a baby, and his mother left him to go work in London. He was essentially orphaned and left to live in a boarding house. As soon as he finally felt he had a family, they were taken from him all too soon.
He did meet his father as a grown man, when he was on set filming a movie, but he did not get to know him to the extent he would have liked. He explained, "my fatherly instincts are purely my own. They relate back to no one, because there was no one. I only met Tom the once, I had a Sunday afternoon with him. A story about this and that, had a few pints of Guinness, and we said goodbye. I would have loved to have known him. He was a good whistler and he had a good walk ... That's about as much as I know about him."
A changed man
Despite his desire to be optimistic, Pierce admits that his outlook on life has been changed forever; how could it not be when you have lost the most important people in his life?
He admits, "I don't look at the cup as half full, believe me. The dark, melancholy Irish black dog sits behind me from time to time."
Now, he is using his own experiences with heartache and hardship in his career, by aiming those emotions at an acting role. In his film, Love Is All You Need, he plays a widower who meets a hairdresser with cancer, and they fall in love.
He explained the emotions he was able to draw on while filming, "I went through it all, very publicly. Such things draw a mark across your heart and it's always a part of your life ... To watch someone you love have their life eaten away - bit by bit, by this insidious and horrid disease - becomes an indelible part of your psyche."
While, unfortunately, James Bond wasn't able to beat the disease for his loved ones, research is being put in place that could possibly protect future generations from falling to the same fate as Cassandra and Charlotte.