Skippy star, Tony Bonner’s whirlwind career and how he turned his life around

Bond, booze & beating the odds!
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Actor Tony Bonner is grateful he lost out on the titular role of James Bond to good friend Roger Moore, because he’s certain not tossing on the tux to play a big-screen 007 saved his life!

“There was a time I was convinced I wouldn’t see 40. I was battling so many demons, from low self-esteem to alcoholism. So, I truly feel blessed to have made it to 80, which I did last month,”

Tony’s time on Skippy ended over a salary dispute.

(Credit: Supplied)

Tony smiles at the sit-down with Woman’s Day. Sydney-born Tony hails from a showbiz family.

His father Frederick was a musical theatre actor, and his mum Josephine a singer.

“I had a difficult childhood, as a bout of life-threatening asthma manifested as low self-esteem that still haunts me to this day. While my siblings were fit, active and healthy, I struggled to even breathe.”

Despite early setbacks, Tony eventually flourished. His first screen role was as a lifesaver in the ’60s movie classic They’re A Weird Mob.

“From there, I was offered the role of helicopter pilot Jerry King in Skippy. I accepted because it was one of the first Australian TV shows to be shot in colour on film. That excited me.”

The star has a good relationship with his children.

(Credit: Instagram)

“Skippy was a terrific learning experience, and the cast, including Ed Devereaux, Ken James and Garry Pankhurst became great mates. I was especially close to Liza Goddard,” says Tony warmly.

“I left Skippy after one season. It was over a denied pay rise, so I upped stumps for the UK. The funny thing is, there was no mention in the subsequent two seasons of Jerry’s whereabouts. He’d just vanished.”

Skippy was an instant hit, screening in more than 120 countries, turning handsome Tony into a pin-up star.

“In 1972, producer Albert ‘Cubby’ Broccoli was looking to cast a new James Bond for Live And Let Die as Sean Connery had hung up the martini shaker.”

“I was in the running, as was my old mate Roger Moore. I met with Cubby… but then my low self-esteem kicked in.”

“By this time my drinking was out of control. I never drank when I worked, but I sure did when I wasn’t. Ultimately, Roger nabbed the Bond role.”

“I was thrilled for him and relieved for me. I think the nature of the James Bond hype would have killed me, so I ran and hid. And drank. I’d been drinking since I was 14. But during downtime in the ’70s and ’80s, I was running wild.”

Tony was chuffed to receive an Order of Australia medal in 2017 for services to acting, lifesaving and charity.

(Credit: Phillip Castleton)

Tony went on to appear in Murder, She Wrote with Angela Lansbury, became close mates with Tom Selleck when he made Quigley Down Under and starred on beloved Aussie soaps including Cop Shop, Skyways and Carson’s Law.

But things were tumultuous. “I’d go on horror benders and had no idea where I’d wind up. Sadly, it ended my 20-year marriage to my extraordinary wife Nola. My three daughters were terrified they’d lose their father in a hideous drink-related mishap,” says Tony.

“In 1989 I had an epiphany…I heard a voice that said if I didn’t change my ways, I’d never live to see my daughters grow up, and I made the decision to get sober, and have been proudly so for almost 35 years.”

“I feel blessed to have turned my life around. I have three amazing daughters, Chelsea, Skye and Hanna, plus I’m a grandfather of six.”

“We are all very close, as I am with my ex-wife – they live on the Gold Coast – so visits with them are extra special,” smiles Tony.

“I’m loving life. I’m working on my memoir, teach acting and have an array of movie and TV projects in the works, including a Hollywood sci-fi epic called Island In The Stars. Not bad for an 80-year-old,” he laughs.

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