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Peter Sellers CBE (September 8, 1925 — July 24, 1980) was an English comedian, actor, and performer, who came to prominence on the BBC radio series The Goon Show, before embarking on a successful film career.
Sellers' first film successes were in British comedies, including The Ladykillers (1955), I'm All Right Jack (1959) and The Mouse That Roared (1959). However, he is most famous for his role as the bungling Inspector Clouseau in the Pink Panther movies, which gave him a worldwide audience. He would play the character in four sequels between (1964) and (1978). The Trail of the Pink Panther was released posthumously in 1982, containing previously unused footage of Sellers. His widow Lynne Frederick later successfully sued the film's producers.
Sellers was born in Southsea, Hampshire, England, to a family of entertainers. His legal name was Richard Henry Sellers. However, his parents called him "Peter" from an early age, in memory of his still-born brother of that name. He attended a Catholic school, although his father was Protestant and his mother was Jewish.
Probably following his family in the variety circuit, Sellers learnt this popular yet difficult art and the immediate instinct of the "gag". He was an incredibly versatile artist: an excellent dancer, a drummer good enough to tour with several jazz bands, and a skilful player of the ukulele and banjo (family legend has it that Seller's father actually taught George Formby to play the ukelele). He is known to have performed at the Windmill Theatre.
During World War II, Sellers was an airman in the Royal Air Force, rising to corporal by the end of the war. During his leisure periods, he did impersonations of his superiors. This helped Sellers in his later film Dr. Strangelove.
His success was quite slow in coming. He phoned up a television producer pretending to be Kenneth Horne, who was currently in the show Much Binding in the Marsh, in order to get them to speak to him. Success came as one of the Goons on the radio programme The Goon Show with fellow comedians Spike Milligan, Sir Harry Secombe and Michael Bentine and was followed by early television work.
Sellers was launched internationally with the hit The Millionairess. His portrayal (or caricature) of Asian characters though, here and elsewhere, has caused some controversy in recent years. In Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb he notably played a triple role, comprising U.S. President Merkin Muffley, Dr. Strangelove, and Group Captain Lionel Mandrake of the RAF (the first two appearing in the same room throughout the film). Sellers was also cast in the role of Major T.J 'King' Kong. However, an unfortunate accident (he broke his leg) made it impossible for him to hoist himself up into the small set on the airplane.
He was remarkably versatile, switching easily from broad comedy as in The Party, to more intense performances, as in Lolita, principally in the role of Clare Quilty, a doppelgдnger for the film's (and novel's) principal pedophilic protagonist, Humbert Humbert.
Sellers' career had slumped by the early 1970s, but, after reviving the Clouseau character, he was able to produce his cherished project Being There in 1979, winning his best reviews since the 1960s. This, his last great film, brought him his second Academy Award nomination. He was unsuccessful on both occasions, although he did win a British Academy Award (BAFTA) for I'm All Right Jack. With Sophia Loren Sellers also recorded the top 10 UK single, Goodness Gracious Me.
Commonly considered a master actor and sometimes described as an "obsessive perfectionist", Sellers found in Blake Edwards a devoted director who could delicately underline and follow his comic rhythms. Edwards defined Sellers as a "mercurial clown" who could turn comedy into drama, and vice-versa, in an instant. He could also be cruel, as he demonstrated in his treatment of actress Jo Van Fleet on the set of I Love You, Alice B. Toklas, when she made a slight faux pas and offended him.
Sellers had casual friendships with two of the 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, whose theme song was Badfinger's cover version of Paul McCartney's Come and Get It. Starr also gave Sellers a rough mix of songs from the Beatles' White Album, and the tape was auctioned (and bootlegged) after his death.
Sellers was also a close friend of Princess Margaret. Another interesting trait was his love for cars: he was believed to have owned and sold many different models by the 1960s. This was briefly parodied in a fleeting cameo in the short film Simon Simon, which was directed by his friend Graham Stark.
Sellers was the first man to appear on the cover of Playboy — he appeared on the April (1964) cover with Karen Lynn.
Sellers played ukulele-banjo on the New York Girls track for Steeleye Span's 1975 album, Commoner's Crown.
Sellers was married four times:
1. Actress Anne Howe (1951–1961). This marriage ended after she claimed he was having an affair with Sophia Loren. This is disputed: Loren has maintained that Sellers had become obsessed with her, but she did not reciprocate his attempts.
2. Swedish actress Britt Ekland (1964–1968)
3. Australian model Miranda Quarry (now the Countess of Stockton) (1970–1974)
4. English actress Lynne Frederick (1977–1980), who later married Sir David Frost.
Premature death and legacy
Sellers died in London from a heart attack on July 24, 1980, aged 54. He was survived by his fourth wife, the English actress Lynne Frederick. He had already suffered a near-fatal heart attack in (1964), at the age of 39. At the time of his death, he was due to undergo heart surgery. He was cremated. His premature death was perhaps hastened by his belief in "alternative medicine," including psychic surgery.
In his will, Sellers explicitly requested that Glenn Miller's song In The Mood be played for his funeral. The request is considered his last touch of humour: his friends knew he deeply hated the song.
Roger Lewis wrote about the madness and bizarre behaviour of Sellers in his biography, The Life and Death of Peter Sellers (Applause Books, 1997). Lewis' biography was adapted for the HBO movie, The Life and Death of Peter Sellers (2004), with Geoffrey Rush in the title role.
In a (2005) poll to find The Comedian's Comedian, Sellers was voted amongst the top 20 greatest comedy acts ever by fellow comedians and comedy insiders.
• The Black Rose (1950)
• London Entertains (1951)
• Let's Go Crazy (1951)
• Burlesque of Carme (1951)
• Penny Points to Paradise (1951)
• Down Among the Z Men (1952)
• The Super Secret Service (1953)
• Our Girl Friday aka The Adventures of Sadie (1954)
• Malaga (voice of 14 characters) (1954)
• Orders are Orders (1954)
• John and Julie (1955)
• The Man Who Never Was (1956) (voice of Winston Churchill, uncredited)
• The Ladykillers (1956)
• The Case of the Mukkineese Battlehorn (1956)
• The Smallest Show on Earth (1957)
• Cold Comfort (1957)
• Insomnia Is Good For You (1957)
• Dearth of a Salesman (1957)
• The Naked Truth aka Your Past Is Showing (1957)
• Tom Thumb (1958)
• Up the Creek (1958)
• Carlton-Browne of the F.O. aka Man in a Cocked Hat (1959)
• The Mouse That Roared (1959)
• I'm All Right Jack (1959)
• The Running, Jumping and Standing Still Film (1960)
• The Battle of the Sexes (1960)
• Two-Way Stretch (1960)
• Never Let Go (1960)
• The Millionairess (1960)
• Climb Up the Wall (1960)
• Mr. Topaze aka I Like Money (1961)
• Only Two Can Play (1962)
• The Road to Hong Kong (1962)
• Waltz of the Toreadors (1962)
• Lolita (1962)
• Trial and Error aka The Dock Brief (1962)
• The Wrong Arm of the Law (1963)
• Heavens Above! (1963)
• Light of Day (1963)
• The Pink Panther (1963)
• Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964) — first Oscar nomination)
• The World of Henry Orient (1964)
• A Shot in the Dark (1964, sequel to The Pink Panther)
• Carol for Another Christmas (1964)
• Birds, Bees and Storks (1964)
• What's New, Pussycat? (1965)
• The Wrong Box (1965)
• After the Fox (1966)
• Casino Royale (1967)
• The Bobo (1967)
• Woman Times Seven (1967)
• The Party aka Hollywood Party (1968)
• I Love You, Alice B. Toklas (1968)
• The Magic Christian (1970)
• Hoffman (1970)
• A Day at the Beach (1970)
• Simon, Simon (1970)
• There's a Girl in My Soup (1971)
• Where Does It Hurt? (1972)
• Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1972)
• The Blockhouse (1973)
• Soft Beds, Hard Battles aka Undercovers Heroes (1973)
• The Optimists of Nine Elms (1974)
• Ghost In The Noonday Sun (1974)
• The Great McGonagall (1975), in which he plays Queen Victoria
• The Return of the Pink Panther (1975)
• Murder by Death (1976)
• The Pink Panther Strikes Again (1976)
• The Revenge of the Pink Panther (1978)
• The Prisoner of Zenda (1979)
• Being There (1979), second nomination for an Academy Award for Best Actor
• The Fiendish Plot of Dr. Fu Manchu (1980)
• Trail of the Pink Panther — posthumously (1982)
In some of above titles, Sellers appears only by his voice.
Sellers released several comedy singles and albums, many of them produced by George Martin. These include:
• Any Old Iron (1957)
• The Best of Sellers (1959)
• Bangers and Mash (1961)
• A Hard Day's Night (1965) (1993) (He covered several other Beatles hits, including Help! and She Loves You.
• Goodness Gracious Me (1960) with Sophia Loren
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