|Richard Henry Sellers,
CBE, commonly known as Peter Sellers (8 September 1925 – 24 July 1980)
was an English  comedian and actor best known for his three roles
in Dr. Strangelove, as Inspector Clouseau in The Pink Panther films,
and as Clare Quilty in the original 1962 screen version of Lolita.
Sellers rose to fame on the BBC Home Service radio series The Goon
Show. His ability to speak in different accents (e.g. French, Indian,
American, British, German), along with his talent to portray a range
of characters, contributed to his success as radio personality and
screen actor and earned him national and international nominations and
awards. Many of his characters and cultural stereotypes became
ingrained in public perception of his work. Sellers's private life,
however, was characterised by turmoil and crises, brought on by mental
problems and substance abuse. Sellers was married four times—his
second wife was the Swedish actress Britt Ekland—with three children
from two of his marriages.
Peter Sellers's birthplace on the corner of Castle Road and Southsea
terrace, in Portsmouth. The blue plaques read "Peter Sellers, Actor
and Comedian was born here"Sellers was born in Southsea, Portsmouth,
England to a family of entertainers. His parents nicknamed him Peter
at an early age, after his elder stillborn brother. He attended a
Roman Catholic school, St. Aloysius College, although his father was
Protestant and his mother was Jewish. He was a descendant of English
prizefighter Daniel Mendoza, who was of Portuguese-Jewish descent.
Sellers is also a cousin of Talksport radio presenter Mike Mendoza.
Accompanying his family on the variety show circuit, Sellers
learned stagecraft which proved valuable later. He performed at five
at the Windmill Theatre in the drama Splash Me!, which featured his
mother. He was a versatile artist, excelling at
dancing, drumming well enough to tour with jazz bands (his drumming is
shown in a clip of the Steve Allen show in 1964), and playing ukulele
and banjo. In Parkinson, Sellers claimed his father had taught George
Formby to play ukulele. Sellers played ukulele on the "New York Girls"
track for Steeleye Span's 1975 album Commoner's Crown.
World War II
During World War II, Sellers was an airman in the Royal Air Force,
rising to corporal, though he had been relegated to ground staff due
to poor eyesight. His tour included India and Burma, although the
duration of his stay in Asia is unknown, and he may have exaggerated
its length. He also served in Germany and France after the war.
As a distraction from the life of a non-commissioned officer, Sellers
joined the Entertainments National Service Association (ENSA),
allowing him to hone his drumming and comedy. He occasionally
impersonated his superiors, and his portrayal of RAF officer Lionel
Mandrake in the film Dr. Strangelove may have been modelled on them.
He bluffed his way into the Officers Club using mimicry and the
occasional false moustache, although as he told Michael Parkinson in
the 1972 interview, occasionally older officers would suspect him. The
voice of Goon Show character Major Dennis Bloodnok came from this
The Goon Show
After his discharge and return to England in 1948, Sellers supported
himself with stand-up routines in variety theatres whose impresarios
needed to legitimise their business. Sellers telephoned BBC radio
producer Roy Speer, pretending to be Kenneth Horne, a member of the
radio show, Much Binding in the Marsh,to get Speer to speak to him.
Sellers was eventually cast on The Goon Show with Spike Milligan,
Harry Secombe and Michael Bentine. Sellers followed this with
Sellers's film success arrived with British comedies, including The
Ladykillers, I'm All Right Jack and The Mouse That Roared. He began
receiving international attention for his portrayal of an Indian
doctor in The Road to Hong Kong, the seventh and last in the "Road"
series, starring Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, Dorothy Lamour.
Playing as Sonny MacGregor an impersonator of sorts in the Sonny
MacGregor Show in The Naked Truth (1957)Sellers found further
international acclaim with the The Millionairess with Sophia Loren.
The film inspired the George Martin radio and television production
Goodness Gracious Me, as well as two novelty songs Goodness Gracious
Me and Bangers and Mash, both featuring Sellers and Loren. He starred
in Stanley Kubrick's Lolita as Clare Quilty, opposite James Mason as
Humbert Humbert. In portraying Quilty, Sellers proved a scene stealer.
Peter Sellers in Dr. Strangelove (1964)A breakthrough came with
Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love
the Bomb in which he portrayed three characters: U.S. President Merkin
Muffley, Dr. Strangelove and Group Captain Lionel Mandrake of the RAF.
Muffley and Strangelove appeared in the same room throughout the film.
Sellers was also cast in the role of Major T. J. 'King' Kong.
Initially, Sellers struggled with the character's Southern accent, but
a crewmember made a recording of a Texan accent, which Sellers
apparently mastered after repeated listenings . However, during a
scene in a plane designed for the set, Sellers fell 15 feet and broke
his leg, preventing additional cockpit scenes and forcing Kubrick to
replace Sellers with Slim Pickens.
Peter Sellers as Inspector Clouseau in the Pink Panther moviesSellers
is most famous for his performance as the bumbling Inspector Clouseau
in the Pink Panther movies, a role that Peter Ustinov had declined.
This character gave Sellers a worldwide audience, beginning with The
Pink Panther and its sequel, A Shot in the Dark, in which he featured
more prominently. He returned to the character for three more sequels
from 1975 to 1978. The Trail of the Pink Panther was released after
his death in 1982, containing unused footage of Sellers. His widow,
Lynne Frederick, successfully sued the film's producers for
unauthorized use. Sellers had prepared to star as Chief Inspector
Clouseau in another Pink Panther film; he died before the start of
this project, Romance of the Pink Panther.
Sellers was a versatile actor, switching from broad comedy, as in The
Party, to more intense performances as in Lolita.
Sellers faced a downturn by the early 1970s and was dubbed "box office
poison". But after the successful return of Clouseau role in new
Pink Panther movies, he produced and starred in a film, Being There
(1979). Based on the Jerzy Kosinski novel he cherished, Being There
earned Sellers his best reviews since the 1960s, a second Academy
Award nomination and a Golden Globe award. Sellers never won an Oscar
but won the BAFTA for I'm All Right Jack.
Sellers appeared on The Muppet Show television series in 1977. He
chose not to appear as himself, instead appearing in a variety of
costumes and accents. When Kermit the Frog told Sellers he could relax
and be "himself", Sellers (while wearing a Viking helmet, a girdle and
one boxing glove, claiming to have attempted to dress as Queen
Victoria), replied, "There is no me. I do not exist. There used to be
a me, but I had it surgically removed."
Barclays Bank approached Sellers to be on the team for advertisements.
Barclays asked Sellers to play Harry Hodges, a Cockney wheeler-dealer
ready to make a penny wherever possible. When it came to shooting,
Sellers said Harry Hodges was no longer the plan and decided to go
under the guise of Monty Casino. Casino’s character resembled Hodges
and if not for the change of name and cultural background could have
gone unnoticed. Now the new Jewish Monty Casino was ready to make or
break the Barclays campaign. Sellers died approximately two weeks
later and so did Monty Casino. Barclays felt that without Sellers, it
should go back to the original plan and it hired Peter Cook to play
Harry Hodges. Monty Casino had little airtime and was the last role
Peter Sellers played.
Personal and professional struggles
Sellers had a troubled personal life. He often clashed with actors and
directors, including a strained relationship with friend and director
Blake Edwards, with whom he worked on the Pink Panther series among
other films. The two sometimes stopped speaking to each other during
filming. Their personal and professional relationship was disrupted
by Sellers's demeanour, highlighted in the semi-biographical HBO/BBC
film The Life and Death of Peter Sellers.
Sellers's personality was described as difficult and demanding by
others. His behaviour caused physical and emotional hurt to many,
notably his first three wives. As portrayed in The Life and Death of
Peter Sellers, he told his eight-year-old son that the boy's mother (Sellers's
wife at the time) was having an affair. Sellers is known to have
assaulted Britt Ekland, often prompted by unsubstantiated jealousy.
His work with Orson Welles on Casino Royale deteriorated as Sellers
became jealous of Welles's casual relationship with Princess Margaret.
The relationship between the two actors created logistic problems
during filming, as Sellers refused to share the set with Welles, who
himself was no stranger to strident behaviour. Sellers could be cruel
and disrespectful, as demonstrated in his treatment of actress Jo Van
Fleet on the set of I Love You, Alice B. Toklas (1968). On one
occasion, Van Fleet had declined an invitation to his house, soon
followed by a misunderstanding between the two actors during filming.
This prompted Sellers to a tirade against Van Fleet in front of actors
Sellers was reticent about discussing his private life. On the Muppet
Show (season 2), in a "backstage" chat with Kermit, Sellers declined
to step out of character, explaining he had "no real me". He was
invited to appear on Michael Parkinson's eponymous chat show in 1974,
but agreed under the condition that he could appear in character.
Sellers appeared dressed as a member of the Gestapo, impersonating
Kenneth Mars' in The Producers. After a few lines in keeping with his
assumed character, he stepped out of the role and settled down for
what is considered one of Parkinson's most memorable interviews.
It has been suggested that Sellers suffered depression spurred by
deep-seated anxieties of artistic and personal failure. Some behaviour
may have been exacerbated by substance abuse, for Sellers regularly
smoked cannabis, drank large amounts of alcohol, and used other
recreational drugs. It is now believed that his drug use, especially
amyl nitrites, contributed to heart attacks in 1964 (see below).
Sellers became aware that his frail psyche affected his career and
life. However, rather than seeking professional counselling, he opted
for periodic consultations with astrologer Maurice Woodruff, who
seemed to have had considerable sway over his later career.
Relationships with other celebrities
Sellers had casual friendships with two Beatles, George Harrison and
Ringo Starr. Harrison told occasional Sellers stories in
interviews, and Starr appeared with him in the anarchic movie The
Magic Christian (1970), whose theme song was Badfinger's "Come and Get
It", written by Paul McCartney. Starr also gave Sellers a rough mix of
songs from the Beatles' White Album; the tape was auctioned and
bootlegged after his death. Sellers recorded a cover version of A Hard
Day's Night (1965), in the style of Laurence Olivier's interpretation
of Richard III.
First man on the cover of PlayboySellers's friendships included actor
and director Roman Polanski, who shared his passion for fast cars.
Sellers was a friend of Princess Margaret and had a close relationship
with Sophia Loren, for whom he seemed to have felt strong but
apparently unrequited romantic attraction. Sellers was the first
man on the cover of Playboy — he appeared on the April 1964 cover with
Obsession with automobiles
Sellers had a lifelong obsession with cars, briefly parodied in a
fleeting cameo in the short film Simon Simon, directed by friend
Graham Stark. His love for cars was also referenced in the The Goon
Show episode "The Space Age", where Harry Secombe introduces Sellers
by saying, "Good heavens, it's Peter Sellers, who has just broken his
own record of keeping a car for more than a month." In "The Last Goon
Show of All", announcer Andrew Timothy cued him with "Mr. Sellers will
now sell a gross of his cars and take up a dramatic voice".
Sellers was married four times:
Actress Anne Howe (1951–1961). They had two children, Michael and
Swedish actress Britt Ekland (1964–1968). They had a daughter,
Victoria Sellers. The couple appeared in two films together: After the
Fox (1966) and The Bobo (1967).
Australian model Miranda Quarry (now the Countess of Stockton)
English actress Lynne Frederick (1977–1980), who later married Sir
Again, Spike Milligan wrote this into his scripts, referring in one
1972 radio show to "The Peter Sellers Discarded Wives Memorial". At
the time, Sellers was married to his third wife, Miranda Quarry.
In 1964, at age 38, Sellers suffered a near-fatal heart attack, which
permanently damaged his heart. Sellers' heart condition deteriorated
when he deferred proper medical treatment, instead opting for "psychic
healers." He also wore a pacemaker, which caused him considerable
A reunion dinner was scheduled in London with his Goon Show partners,
Spike Milligan and Harry Secombe, for late July 1980. But on 22 July
Sellers collapsed from a massive heart attack in his Dorchester Hotel
room and fell into a coma. He died in a London hospital just after
midnight on 24 July 1980, aged 54. He was survived by his fourth wife,
Lynne Frederick, and three children: Michael, Sarah and Victoria. At
the time of his death he was scheduled to undergo heart surgery in Los
Angeles within the month..
Sellers's fourth wife inherited the bulk of his estate, and his
children received £800 each. Sellers's only son, Michael, died of a
heart attack at 52 during surgery on 24 July 2006 . It was 26 years
to the day after his father died of the same condition. Michael was
survived by his second wife, Alison, whom he married in 1986, and
their two children.
In his will, Sellers
requested that the Glenn Miller song "In the Mood" be played at his
funeral. The request is considered his last touch of humour, as he
hated the song. This is verified in Michael Bentine's memoir The Door
Marked Summer. His body was cremated and he was
interred at Golders Green Crematorium in London.
The film Trail of the Pink Panther, made by Blake Edwards using unused
footage of Sellers from The Pink Panther Strikes Again, is dedicated
to Sellers's memory. The title reads "To Peter... The one and only
In a 2005 poll to find The Comedian's Comedian, Sellers was voted 14
in the list of the top 20 greatest comedians by fellow comedians and