Former Mr. James Bond lost his wife and daughter to cancer, and witnessed his son descend down a dangerous path, yet he maintains optimism in his day-to-day.

Pierce Brosnan may have ingrained himself in the public consciousness as the effervescently cool, sophisticated, and suave James Bond of the nineties, but in reality, their stories couldn’t be more different. 

For starters, Pierce, though a renowned actor of our times, isn’t nearly as glamorous or untouchably perfect as 007. He has faced his battles, some of which left him wounded, devastated, and emotionally crippled for years on end. He has experienced unimaginable losses, those which you do not recover from but only make peace with as you get older. Anyone remotely familiar with Pierce’s background can attest to the challenges that have plagued him since the beginning. 

Yet, what makes his journey more meaningful and possibly more impressive than James Bond is how he doesn’t bother to hide behind the mystery. He is willing to discuss at length some of the battles he’s fought and what he’s actively doing to heal himself and his family. We’ve already explored the sense of protectiveness he feels over his wife Keely Shaye Smith, but it’s time to unpack the complex relationship he shares with his children. 

Here’s why his undying commitment to fatherhood carries a lesson for everyone.

Pierce had to “cut off” his adopted son Christopher due to lifelong addiction troubles

Pierce Brosnan, Son Christopher Harris, and Daughter Charlotte Harris (Photo by Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images)

Pierce’s journey with fatherhood began in quite a unique, sudden fashion. 

He was only twenty-four when he met Australian actress Cassandra Harris in 1975. They instantly fell in love, with Pierce remarking how he didn’t think “of wooing her, or attempting to woo her.” He just wanted to “enjoy her beauty and who she was.” They married in December 1980 and welcomed their son Sean in 1983. Pierce also adopted Cassandra’s children, Charlotte and Christopher, when their father passed away in 1986. Charlotte and Chris subsequently assumed the Brosnan family name. 

Instead of being able to focus his energy on raising just one kid, the Mamma Mia actor had to quickly acclimate to being a parent of three children, including two sullen teenagers who were still grieving the death of their biological dad and didn’t see Pierce as a father figure at all. “To begin with I was Pierce, then I was Daddy Pierce, and then I just became Dad,” Pierce said. Despite the initial adjustment hiccups, the five of them had figured out how to be a loving, blended unit. “We just clicked as a family.”

Unfortunately, tragedy engulfed the family in short order when Cassandra was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in the late eighties. She passed away on 28 December 1991 at the age of 43. The death understandably shattered the family inside out, and Pierce had to reckon with not only losing the love of his life but being a beacon of strength for the family while coping with his own trauma. As for Charlotte and Chris, the sorrow of losing both their mom and dad in the span of a few years struck them hard. Describing the situation, Pierce said, “I was in a helpless state of…confusion and anger. She was comforting me.”

Over the years, things had to get worse before they could get better. While Pierce was eventually able to get back on his feet and recuperate, Chris tried to numb his agony with substances. He started relying on heroin and cocaine to get through the day, spiraling deeper and deeper into a tumultuous state of disorder. In a 2005 Playboy interview, Pierce shed some light on what had been occurring with his son. “Christopher is still very lost. Shockingly so.” 

I had to say, ‘Go. Get busy living, or get busy dying.’ For all his waywardness and addiction I adore Christopher and just want him well and healthy.

Pierce Brosnan to Playboy

Pierce also shared how he had to “cut off” Christopher because his behavior was becoming more and more erratic, impossible to control, incorrigible to reason. “[Christopher] has tested everybody in this family but none more so than himself. He knows how to get out. He doesn’t want to.” It’s a difficult realization for any father to undergo, but enough is enough. Sometimes, you have to accept that there is only so much you can do to help your wounded, dysfunctional child. Pierce did what he could, but at the end of the day, he had to set boundaries with Chris. “I had to say, ‘Go. Get busy living, or get busy dying’. He has my prayers.”

He lost his daughter to the same disease that claimed his first wife

Pierce Brosnan and his daughter Charlotte (Photo by Mu Kei/FilmMagic)

If Christopher’s state of affairs wasn’t harrowing enough, Pierce lost his only daughter, Charlotte, to ovarian cancer in June 2013. It was a tragic repeat of what had transpired to her mother twenty-two years earlier, sending Pierce into a mournful, dejected frame of mind yet again. In a statement to the press, he announced Charlotte’s death and said, “Our hearts are heavy with the loss of our beautiful dear girl. We pray for her and that the cure for this wretched disease will be close at hand soon.” 

At least, he was able to work through the pain with the support of his wife Keely, but it’s never easy to lose both your wife and your daughter to the same disease. When asked how he is able to grapple with life’s many adversities, he said, “I don’t look at the cup as half full, believe me,” adding that the “dark, melancholy Irish black dog” sits beside him occasionally. The despair has a way of latching into your inner self, spreading like a virus and becoming an “indelible part of your psyche,” he 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. 

Pierce Brosnan via Entertainment Tonight 

Thankfully, Pierce hasn’t given up hope yet. He’s more in love than ever with Keely, he values his hobbies and does try to spend as much time as he can with his children and grandchildren. “My days are full in a leisurely sort of way,” he said. He cherishes being a father to Sean, Dylan, Paris, and even Christopher, despite the heartache the latter may have caused. “I know what it’s like to bring up sons, and it can be a very arduous road,” he said. Yet, at the same time, he has faith in his “instincts.”  As long as he’s trying his best to support, nurture, and love his children, the code to cracking fatherhood will be within grasp. 

Never turn away from acknowledging your sadness

Christopher Brosnan, Charlotte Brosnan, Pierce Brosnan, his mother and Sean Brosnan (Photo by Gareth Davies/Getty Images)

You could be the sexiest, most beloved man in the world and still be haunted by immeasurable tragic memories. That’s what Pierce’s journey serves as a reminder to: in life, we can’t have everything. We are undeniably going to go through our own excruciating circumstances that inflict a great deal of suffering, sacrifice, and loss. Sometimes, it’s death; sometimes, it’s divorce, and sometimes it could be seeing our loved ones descend a frightening path over which we have no control, but we are going to come across them nonetheless. Instead of ignoring their presence and just going about your day like it’s no big deal, it’s valuable to acknowledge the pain in your life. Grief will lodge deep within your heart and build a home, but as long as you make room for other positive emotions, you’ll be okay. Don’t refuse to acknowledge the reality, as distressing as it may seem. Sadness is what gives meaning to happiness.

Rise Again
“You will survive and you will find purpose in the chaos. Moving on doesn’t mean letting go.” — Mary VanHaute