Pierce Brosnan may be the big-screen essence of nonchalance, but he couldn't conceal his fear in the early morning hours of April 22. On a cliffside road in the mountains above Malibu, Brosnan, 47, stood in the predawn gloom while emergency crews spent two hours rescuing his 16-year-old son Sean from a ravine where the Chevy Blazer he had been riding in with five friends lay in a heap 130 feet below. Sabyn Mayfield, 18, who just after the crash got a frantic cell-phone call from passenger Cory Escobar, 19, and rushed to the scene, says Brosnan "looked like you would look if you saw your son on a gurney. He was trying to hold it together."

Nobody would have blamed him if he hadn't. Sean—who suffered a fractured pelvis and a punctured bladder in the 3:45 a.m. accident and was airlifted by helicopter from the scene—is Brosnan's only child with his late wife, actress Cassandra Harris, who died of ovarian cancer at age 39 in 1991. (Brosnan adopted Harris's two children Charlotte, now 28, and Christopher, 27, when their father died in 1986.) Brosnan was with his son in the helicopter and took a hotel room near the UCLA Medical Center to be near him. "He slept when he could, but mostly he was at Sean's side," says a confidant. "This was not the Easter I had planned," Brosnan said in a statement, "but my family and I give gratitude to God and to many extraordinary men and women that my son will have a full recovery." As the three-time 007 told IN STYLE in 1997, "being a single parent can be terrifying.... You think you're liberal and carefree, but then you realize that you have become quite conservative and maybe overly protective."

He might be thinking about redoubling his efforts. Police say several beer bottles were found in the wreckage, and the driver, Sean's 19-year-old friend James Hall, was hit with a felony charge of driving under the influence. He spent more than two days in jail before making his $50,000 bail (he will be arraigned May 30). Except for James Hall's brother Anthony, 16, who suffered a broken rib, the rest of the youths (Sean's schoolmate Robert Laird, 17, Escobar and Morgan Meyer, 20) suffered minor injuries.

The accident, according to Mayfield, happened after the group got bored and went driving—a few miles from Brosnan's new $7 million Malibu beach house. But Sean, a rugby player with a yen for poetry who was on Easter break from Millfield, a boarding school in England (where, like his half siblings, he was sent to avoid L.A.'s temptations), is normally "very levelheaded," says school official Simon Bloxam-Rose.

Brosnan is still planning his May nuptials to Keely Shaye Smith, 36, a journalist who has reported for Entertainment Tonight and is the mother of his son Dylan, 3. "It will be a time to celebrate life," says a friend. Sean was expected to be sent home to mend within a week. As for his father, "Pierce has been through a lot of rough times," says his friend and ex-girlfriend Rebecca McKenzie, "and he'll survive this."

Kyle Smith
Lyndon Stambler and Pamela Warrick in Los Angeles, York Membery in London and Mary Finnegan in Dublin

  • Contributors:
  • Lyndon Stambler,
  • Pamela Warrick,
  • York Membery,
  • Mary Finnegan.