kids

"The black dog sits beside me": Pierce Brosnan has mourned a wife and daughter, and 'lost' a son.

Pierce Brosnan grew up with a different-shaped family than most. The James Bond star’s carpenter father left when he was an infant; his mother, a nurse, moved from Ireland to London to find work when he was four, and would visit him maybe once or twice a year. To young Pierce, home was with his extended family and then in a boarding house.

But when he was in his late 20s, fresh out of drama school, he was welcomed into another family; that of his first wife, Australian actor Cassandra Harris.

In marrying her in 1980, the actor became not only a husband, but a father to her two teenage children. Pierce even formally adopted Chris, then 14, and Charlotte, 15, after their father, producer Dermot Harris, died in 1986.

“We just clicked as a family,” Pierce told Express back in 2013. “To begin with I was Pierce, then I was Daddy Pierce, and then I just became Dad. Charlotte and Chris have just been amazing in my life.”

But in 1991, cancer reshaped that new family. And not for the last time.

Pierce with Cassandra, Chris and Charlotte in 1985. Image: Getty.

One illness; three tragedies.

After becoming ill on the set of the film, The Deceivers, in India in 1987, Cassandra was diagnosed with ovarian cancer.

She died on December 28, 1991, at the age of 43, with Pierce lying in the hospital bed beside her.

Pierce became a single father to Chris and Charlotte, and his son with Cassandra, Sean, who was just eight years old.

“I sat [Sean] on my lap and told him Mummy had died,” Pierce told People. “The tears came to his eyes, but they never fell. He just said, ‘It’s for the best, Daddy. She’s not in pain anymore.’ And that was it.”

The death affected them all deeply.

"It was and is a terrible loss, and I see it reflected, from time to time, in my children," he told Cigar Aficionado in 1997. "How do you carry on afterwards? Slowly. Very, very, very slowly. It hurts. And you have to sit and endure it. There's nothing else to do; it won't go away."

ADVERTISEMENT

Tragically, the disease haunted them again. Charlotte too passed away of ovarian cancer in 2013. By then she was a mother of two, and just 41 years old.

Pierce and his daughter, Charlotte in 2006. Image: Getty.

Speaking at a Stand Up to Cancer event the following year, Pierce said, "To watch someone you love have his or her life eaten away bit by bit by this insidious disease, that kind of sorrow becomes an indelible part of your psyche.

"I held the generous, strong, beautiful hand of my first wife Cassie as ovarian cancer took her life much too soon. And just last year, I held the hand of my funny, wonderful daughter Charlotte before she too died from this wretched, inherited disease."

In 2018, it claimed a third life in Brosnan's circle; that of his producing partner, Beau Marie St. Clair.

"I don't look at the cup as half full, believe me," he told Esquire. "The dark, melancholy Irish black dog sits beside me from time to time."

The "lost" son, and new love.

In the years since Cassandra's death, Chris has become estranged from his father. He developed addictions to cocaine and heroin, and was imprisoned for three months for drink driving in 1997.

In 2005, Pierce told Playboy that his offers to help Chris had been repeatedly knocked back, and he'd had to cut his "lost" son off.

Christopher Brosnan in 2007. Image: Getty.
ADVERTISEMENT

"I can only have strong faith and believe he will recover. He has tested everybody in this family but none more so than himself. He knows how to get out. He doesn't want to," the actor said.

"It's painful because you shut down. You never completely cut them off, but I have cut Christopher off. I had to say, 'Go. Get busy living, or get busy dying'. He has my prayers."

Chris appeared on Love Island UK later that year, but has been largely out of the spotlight since.

In between all the heartbreak, Pierce found a new happiness with American journalist and television presenter Keely Shaye Smith. The pair met in 1994, married 2001 and have two sons together; Dylan, 22, and Paris, 18, both of whom work as models.

Pierce with his wife, Keely, and their sons in 2017. Image: Getty.

Pierce credits his wife with helping him mourn and honour Cassandra.

“I know what it is like to be a widower, and what it is like to find love again,” Pierce told The Daily Mail.

“So I know there’s hope and that you have to learn to get on with it. Ups and downs are what life is all about. But the memory of Cassie and her fight against cancer is never forgotten.”

For support dealing with drug addiction, please call Narcotics Anonymous on 1300 652 820.

00:00 / ???