Peter Sellers

Peter Sellers
Peter Sellers

Peter Sellers as Henry Orient
Born Richard Henry Sellers
8 September 1925(1925-09-08)
Southsea, Hampshire, England, United Kingdom
Died 24 July 1980(1980-07-24) (aged 54)
London, England, United Kingdom
Cause of death Heart Attack
Nationality British[1]
Ethnicity Jewish
Occupation Actor, comedian
Years active 1948–1980
Spouse Anne Hayes
(m. 1951–1961; divorced)
Britt Ekland
(m. 1964–1968; divorced)
Miranda Quarry
(m. 1970–1974; divorced)
Lynne Frederick (m. 1977–1980; his death)
Children Michael (deceased), Sarah, Victoria

Richard Henry Sellers, CBE (8 September 1925 – 24 July 1980), known as Peter Sellers, was a British comedian and actor. Perhaps best known as Chief Inspector Clouseau in The Pink Panther film series, he is also notable for playing three different characters in Dr. Strangelove, as Clare Quilty in Lolita, and as the TV-addicted man-child Chance the gardener in his penultimate film, Being There. Leading actress Bette Davis once remarked of him, "He isn't an actor—he's a chameleon."[2]

Sellers rose to fame on the BBC Radio comedy series The Goon Show. His ability to speak in different accents (e.g., French, Indian, American, German, as well as British regional accents), along with his talent to portray a range of characters to comic effect, contributed to his success as a radio personality and screen actor and earned him national and international nominations and awards. Many of his characters became ingrained in public perception of his work. Sellers' private life was characterised by turmoil and crises, and included emotional problems and substance abuse. Sellers was married four times, and had three children from the first two marriages.

An enigmatic figure, he often claimed to have no identity outside the roles that he played, but he left his own portrait since, "he obsessively filmed his homes, his family, people he knew, anything that took his fancy right to the end of his life—intimate film that remained undiscovered until long after his death in 1980."[3] The director Peter Hall has said: "Peter had the ability to identify completely with another person, and think his way physically, mentally and emotionally into their skin. Where does that come from? I have no idea. Is it a curse? Often. I think it's not enough, though, in this business to have talent. You have to have talent to handle the talent. And that I think Peter did not have."[4]


Early life

Peter Sellers' birthplace on the corner of Castle Road and Southsea terrace, in Southsea; the blue plaques read "Peter Sellers, Actor and Comedian was born here"

Sellers was born in Southsea, Portsmouth, to a family of entertainers. Though christened Richard Henry, his parents always called him Peter, after his elder stillborn brother,[5] and, according to Bryan Forbes, "was, during his formative years, totally smothered in maternal affection". He attended the North London Roman Catholic school St. Aloysius College. His father, Yorkshire-born Bill Sellers, was Protestant and his mother, Agnes Doreen 'Peg' née Marks was Jewish, the daughter of Solomon Marks and his wife, Welcome Mendoza. Agnes was a first cousin, three times removed, of famous boxer Daniel Mendoza (1764-1836), not, as is commonly believed, his great-granddaughter.[6] As an adult, notes film critic Alexander Walker, Mendoza was the ancestor Sellers "most revered," and he usually kept an engraving of him hanging in his office. At one time he planned on having Mendoza's image for his production company's logo.

According to Sellers' biographer Roger Lewis, Sellers was intrigued by Catholicism, but soon after entering Catholic school, he "discovered he was a Jew—he was someone on the outside of the mysteries of faith." Sellers says that teachers referred to him as "The Jew", which led to his subsequent sensitivity to anti-semitic innuendos. He was a top student at the school, and recalls that the teacher once scolded the other boys for not studying: "The Jewish boy knows his catechism better than the rest of you!"[5]:203

Later in his life, Sellers is quoted as saying "My father was solid Church of England but my mother was Jewish—Portuguese Jewish—and Jews take the faith of their mother."[7] Film critic Kenneth Tynan noted after his interview with Sellers that one of the main "motive forces" for his ambition as an actor was "his hatred of anti-semitism." Tynan explained:

In scholars, lawyers, doctors and vaudeville comedians, Jewishness is tolerated. In legitimate actors, much less often. . . . Hence [Peter Seller's refusal] to be content with the secure reputation of a great mimic and his determination to go down in history as something more—a great actor, perhaps, or a great director.[8]

Sellers was of the opinion that "becoming part of some large group never does any good. Maybe that's my problem with religion," he said during an interview. He explained:

"I wasn't baptised. I wasn't Bar Mitzvahed. I suppose my basic religion is doing unto others as they would do unto me. But I find it all very difficult. I am more inclined to believe in the Old Testament than in the New . . . .[9]

Accompanying his family on the variety show circuit,[5] Sellers learned stagecraft, which proved valuable later. He performed at age five at the burlesque Windmill Theatre in the drama Splash Me!, which featured his mother.[10] However, he grew up with conflicting influences from his parents and developed ambivalent feelings about show business. His father lacked confidence in Peter's abilities to ever become much in the entertainment field, even suggesting that his son's talents were only enough to become a road sweeper, while Sellers' mother encouraged him continually.[5]:18

Sellers got his first job at a theatre in Ilfracombe, when he was 15, starting as a janitor. He was steadily promoted, becoming a box office clerk, usher, assistant stage manager, and lighting operator. He was also offered some small acting parts.[5] Working backstage gave him a chance to see serious actors at work, such as Paul Scofield. He also became close friends with Derek Altman, and together they launched Sellers' first stage act under the name "Altman and Sellers," where they played ukuleles, sang, and told jokes. They also both enjoyed reading detective stories by Dashiell Hammett, and were inspired to start their own detective agency. "Their enterprise ended abruptly when a potential client ripped Sellers' fake moustache off."[5]

At his regular job backstage at the theatre, Sellers began practising on a set of drums that belonged to the band "Joe Daniels and His Hot Shots." Joe Daniels began noticing his efforts and gave him some practical instructions. Sellers' biographer Ed Sikov writes that "drumming suited him. Banging in time Pete could envelop himself in a world of near-total abstraction, all in the context of a great deal of noise."[5]:20

World War II period

As war broke out in Europe, Sellers continued to develop his drumming skills, which strongly impressed even his father and landed Sellers his first drumming job with a band in Blackpool.[5]:22

He later enlisted, and during World War II Sellers was an airman in the Royal Air Force, rising to corporal, though he had been restricted to ground staff because of poor eyesight. His tour included India and Burma, although the duration of his stay in Asia is unknown and its length may have been exaggerated by Sellers himself.[5] He also served in Germany and France after the war.[5] As a distraction from the life of a non-commissioned officer, Sellers joined the Entertainments National Service Association (ENSA), which his father had earlier also signed up with, allowing him to hone his drumming and comedy. By the end of the war in 1945, more than four out of five British entertainers had worked for ENSA, whose focus was on boosting morale of soldiers and factory workers.[5]

He occasionally impersonated his superiors,[5] 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' Mess 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 period.[citation needed]

Early career

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.[5] Sellers telephoned BBC radio producer Roy Speer, pretending to be Kenneth Horne, star of the radio show Much Binding in the Marsh, to get Speer to speak to him. Speer reportedly called Sellers a "cheeky young sod" for this.[11]

As a result, Sellers was given an audition, which led to his work on Ray's a Laugh with comedian Ted Ray. His principal radio work was on The Goon Show with Spike Milligan, Harry Secombe and (originally) Michael Bentine. Sellers followed this with television work.


In the late 1950s, Sellers released two comedy records produced by George Martin: The Best of Sellers and Songs for Swinging Sellers. The Best of Sellers album cover (first released in 10" format in 1958 and his debut LP) pictured him polishing a Rolls-Royce motor car. The most popular tracks on this album were "Balham, Gateway to the South" (a parody travelogue) and "Suddenly It's Folksong" where a group of people end up smashing up a pub after a row over someone playing a bum note. The Songs for Swinging Sellers album, released in 1959, whose title parodied Frank Sinatra's album Songs for Swinging Lovers, contained material written by Frank Muir and Denis Norden, and featured Sellers performing "Puttin on the Style" (a parody of the skiffle movement's performer Lonnie Donegan). Sellers also appeared with guest Irene Handl on the track "Shadows on the Grass" where he played the part of a Frenchman befriending a lady in the park. Musical direction was by Ron Goodwin.

In 1963, Sellers worked with Anthony Newley, Leslie Bricusse and Joan Collins to produce the LP Fool Britannia. This comprised a series of sketches satirising the British political scandal the Profumo Affair, in which the Minister for War was revealed to have lied about his relationship with a prostitute who was also involved with a Russian diplomat. The album was controversial, in part perhaps because of material involving the royal family, and would-be buyers in the United Kingdom found it especially hard to obtain.

A 1965 hit was a spoof spoken version of the Beatles' "A Hard Day's Night", in the style of Laurence Olivier. This followed up various pieces of Olivier-style speech in the Goons.

In 1979 he released a new gatefold album entitled Sellers' Market (the cover shows him standing next to traders reading the Financial Times and the Wall Street Journal whereas Sellers is reading the Finchley Press) which included comic singing and a feature called the "All England George Formby Finals" where he parodies the late George Formby and his ukulele playing. Also featured was the Complete Guide to Accents of the British Isles. The album was not as popular as his first two in 1958 and 1959 although it is still sought after by collectors.[12] All of his albums exploited Sellers's ability to use his flexible voice to comedic effect.

Acting technique and preparation

In an October 1962 interview for Playboy, Sellers described how he prepared for acting roles once he agreed to play the part:

Well, having got to the stage where one sees a final script and has discussed the part with all concerned, I start with the voice. I find out how the character sounds. It's through the way he speaks that I find out the rest about him. I suppose that approach comes from having worked in radio for so long. After the voice comes the looks of the man. I do a lot of drawings of the character I play. Then I get together with the makeup man and we sort of transfer my drawings onto my face. An involved process. After that I establish how the character walks. Very important, the walk. And then, suddenly, something strange happens. The person takes over. The man you play begins to exist. I sink myself completely into every character I play, because he has begun to live in me. I suddenly seem to know what sort of life that man has had and how he would react to a given situation.[9]

Film career

Sellers' film success arrived with British comedies, including The Ladykillers, I'm All Right Jack and The Mouse That Roared. In his early film roles, he continued to exploit his ability to do accents and different voices, often in character parts and occasionally playing several distinct roles in a single film. In his second movie, he played two parts; in his third, six (see chart below).

In The Smallest Show on Earth, the 27-year-old actor played a doddering, drunken elderly projectionist twice his actual age. In The Mouse That Roared, set in a small European country, he played three major and distinct roles, the elderly queen, the ambitious Prime Minister, and the innocent and clumsy farm boy selected to lead an invasion of the United States. In the United States he received considerable publicity for playing three parts, a stunt he would do again in Dr. Strangelove.

He began receiving international attention for his portrayal of an Indian doctor in The Millionairess with Sophia Loren. The film inspired the George Martin-produced novelty hit single Goodness Gracious Me and its follow-up Bangers and Mash, both featuring Sellers and Loren.


In 1962, Stanley Kubrick asked Sellers to play the role of Clare Quilty in Lolita opposite James Mason and Shelley Winters. Kubrick had seen Sellers in his earlier films and was intrigued by his range, also demonstrated during The Goon Show period when Sellers had done impressions of famous people, such as Winston Churchill, the Queen, and Lew Grade.

However, Sellers felt the part of a flamboyant American television playwright was beyond his ability, mainly because Quilty was, in Sellers' words, "a fantastic nightmare, part homosexual, part drug addict, part sadist...". He became nervous about taking on the role, and many people came up to him and told him they felt the role believable.[13] Kubrick eventually succeeded in persuading Sellers to play the part, however. Kubrick had American jazz musician and producer Norman Granz record Sellers' portions of the script for Sellers to listen to, so he could study the voice and develop confidence.[14]

Unlike most of his earlier well-rehearsed movie roles, Sellers was encouraged by Kubrick to improvise throughout the filming in order to exhaust all the possibilities of his character. Moreover, in order to capture Sellers at his most creative heights, Kubrick often used as many as three cameras. Sellers and Kubrick created the multiple disguises used by Sellers, such as a state trooper and a German psychologist. As filming progressed, the other actors and the crew would notice Sellers' greatly enjoying his acting and, according to Kubrick, reaching "...what can only be described as a state of comic ecstasy".[14] The movie's cinematographer, Oswald Morris, further commented that, "the most interesting scenes were the ones with Peter Sellers, which were total improvisations."[14]

Because of this experience, Sellers found that his relationship with Kubrick became one of the most rewarding of his career.[14]

Dr. Strangelove

Group Captain Mandrake
President Merkin Muffley
Dr. Strangelove

In Kubrick's next film, Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb he asked Sellers to be in the leading role. Sellers played three extremely different characters: U.S. President Merkin Muffley, Dr. Strangelove, a heavily German-accented nuclear scientist, and Group Captain Lionel Mandrake of the RAF. Sellers was initially hesitant about taking on the task, but Kubrick convinced him that there was no better actor that could play these parts.[14]

Muffley and Dr. Strangelove appeared in the same room throughout the film, with the help of Kubrick's special effects. Sellers was originally also cast to play a fourth role as bomber pilot Major T. J. "King" Kong, but from the beginning Sellers was reluctant. He felt his workload was too heavy and he worried he would not properly portray the character's Texas accent. Kubrick pleaded with him and asked screenwriter Terry Southern (who had been raised in Texas) to record a tape with Kong's lines spoken in the correct accent. Using Southern's tape, Sellers managed to get the accent right, and started shooting the scenes in the airplane. But then Sellers sprained an ankle and could not work in the cramped cockpit set.[15][16][17]This forced Kubrick to recast the part with Slim Pickens. For his performance in all three roles, Sellers was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor. Kubrick again gave Sellers a free rein to improvise throughout the filming. Sellers once said, "If you ask me to play myself, I will not know what to do. I do not know who or what I am."[18]

Pink Panther

From 1963, Sellers was cast as the bumbling Chief Inspector Clouseau in The Pink Panther movies. 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, containing unused footage of Sellers, was released in 1982, after his death. His widow, Lynne Frederick, successfully sued the film's producers for unauthorised 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.

Being There

In 1979, Sellers played the role of Chance, a simple gardener addicted to watching TV, in the black comedy Being There, considered by some critics to be the "crowning triumph of Peter Sellers's remarkable career,"[19] as well as a great achievement for novelist Jerzy Kosinski. During a BBC interview in 1971, Sellers said that more than anything else, he wanted to play the role of Chance.[19]

Kosinski, the book's author, felt that the novel was never meant to be made into a film, but Sellers succeeded in changing his mind, and Kosinski allowed Sellers and director Hal Ashby to make the film, provided he could write the script.[19] According to film critic Danny Smith, Sellers was "naturally intrigued with the idea of Chance, a character who reflected whatever was beamed at him".[20]

Sellers's performance was praised by some critics as achieving "the pinpoint-sharp exactitude of nothingness. It is a performance of extraordinary dexterity",[5]:361 and "...[making] the film's fantastic premise credible".[21]

Sellers's experience of working on the film was both humbling and powerful for him.[20] During the filming, in order not to break his character, he refused most interview requests, and even kept his distance from other actors. He tried to remain in character even after he returned home.[20] Sellers considered Chance's walking and voice the character's most important attributes, and in preparing for the role, Sellers worked alone with a tape recorder, or with his wife, and then with Ashby, to perfect the clear enunciation and flat delivery needed to reveal "the childlike mind behind the words."[20]

Critic Frank Rich noted the acting skill required for this sort of role, with a "schismatic personality that Peter had to convey with strenuous vocal and gestural technique. . . . A lesser actor would have made the character's mental dysfunction flamboyant and drastic. . . . [His] intelligence was always deeper, his onscreen confidence greater, his technique much more finely honed."[21]

Being There earned Sellers his best reviews since the 1960s, a second Academy Award nomination and a Golden Globe award. A few months after the film was released, Time magazine wrote a cover-story article about Sellers, entitled, "Who is This Man?" The cover showed many of the characters Sellers had portrayed, including Chance, Quilty, Strangelove, Clouseau, and the Grand Duchess Glorianna XII. Sellers was pleased by the article, written by critic Richard Schickel, and wrote an appreciative letter to the magazine's editor."[5]:373

Final projects

Sellers' last movie was The Fiendish Plot of Dr. Fu Manchu, a comedic reimagining of the classic series of adventure novels by Sax Rohmer. In this new version, Sellers played both "Fu Manchu" and his arch nemesis, police inspector Nayland Smith. Production of the film ran into problems from the start, with Sellers' poor health and mental instability causing long delays and bickering between star and director Piers Haggard. With roughly 60% of the movie shot, Sellers had Haggard sacked and took over direction himself. Haggard later complained that the reshoots Sellers ordered added nothing to the production, and had resulted in the film being incoherent and unfocused. The movie contains references to Sellers' serious heart troubles, including scenes where Fu revives his ancient body with large electric shocks.[22]

Sellers died shortly before Fu Manchu was released, with his very last performance being that of conman "Monty Casino" in a series of adverts for Barclays Bank. In 1982, Sellers returned to the big screen as Inspector Clouseau in Trail of the Pink Panther, which was composed entirely of deleted scenes from his past three Panther movies, in particular The Pink Panther Strikes Again, with a new story written around them. David Niven also reprised his role of Sir Charles Lytton in this movie. Along with what many, notably his widow Lynne Frederick, saw as exploitation of Sellers, the manner in which Niven's cameo was handled has earned the movie a lasting unsavoury reputation.[citation needed] Edwards continued the series with a further instalment called the Curse of the Pink Panther, which was shot back to back with the framing footage for Trail, but Sellers was wholly absent from this film.

After The Fiendish Plot of Dr. Fu Manchu, Sellers was scheduled to appear in another Clouseau comedy, The Romance Of The Pink Panther. Its script, written by Peter Moloney and Sellers himself, had Clouseau falling for a brilliant female criminal known as 'The Frog' and aiding her in her heists with the aim to reform her character.[citation needed] Blake Edwards did not participate in the planning of this new Clouseau instalment, as the working relationship between him and Sellers had broken down during the filming of Revenge Of The Pink Panther. The final draft of the script, including a humorous cover letter signed by "Pete Shakespeare", was delivered to United Artists' office less than six hours before Sellers died.[citation needed] Sellers death ended the project, along with two other planned movies for which Sellers had signed contracts in 1980. The two films—Unfaithfully Yours and Lovesick—were rewritten as vehicles for Dudley Moore; both performed poorly at the box office upon release.[citation needed] Trade papers such as Variety carried an elaborately curlicued advert for the former movie, with Sellers at the top of the cast list, in early June 1980.[citation needed]

Other roles

Director Billy Wilder hired Sellers to co-star with Dean Martin for the ribald 1964 comedy Kiss Me, Stupid, but six weeks into filming, Sellers suffered a heart attack. Wilder replaced him with Ray Walston.

Sellers was a versatile actor, switching from broad comedy, as in The Party, in which he portrayed a bumbling Indian actor Hrundi Bakshi, to more intense performances as in Lolita.

Sellers appeared in an episode of the American television series It Takes a Thief in 1969. By the early 1970s he faced a downturn, however, and was dubbed "box office poison".[23] 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."[24]

Personal life

Sellers was reticent about discussing his private life. 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 the Kenneth Mars character 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.[25]


Sellers and Britt Ekland 1964

Sellers was married four times and fathered three children:

Spike Milligan wrote Sellers' multiple marriages into his scripts, referring in one 1972 radio show to "The Peter Sellers Discarded Wives Memorial". At the time, Sellers was married to Quarry.

Depression, substance abuse, and health problems

It has been suggested that Sellers suffered depression spurred by deep-seated anxieties of artistic and personal failure[27] and exacerbated by substance abuse.[28] It is believed that his drug use, especially amyl nitrites, contributed to heart attacks in 1964 (see below).[29] Sellers' difficulties in his career and life prompted him to seek periodic consultations with astrologer Maurice Woodruff, who seemed to have held considerable sway over his later career.[5]


Other celebrities

Sellers had casual friendships with two Beatles, George Harrison and Ringo Starr.[5] Harrison told occasional Sellers stories in interviews, and Starr appeared with him in the anarchic movie The Magic Christian, which was based on Terry Southern's novel and whose theme song was Badfinger's "Come and Get It", written by Paul McCartney. Starr's two-week hiatus from the Beatles during the White Album recordings was spent aboard Sellers's yacht, where he wrote "Octopus's Garden". 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", in the style of Laurence Olivier's interpretation of Richard III, as well as various versions of "She Loves You", including as Dr. Strangelove, a cockney, and an Irish dentist.

Sellers was the first male to appear on the cover of Playboy magazine.[30]

Sellers's friends included actor and director Roman Polanski, who shared his passion for fast cars. Sellers had a close relationship with Sophia Loren, but accounts differ on whether or not their relationship was consummated.[31] Sellers was the first man on the cover of Playboy—he appeared on the April 1964 cover with Karen Lynn.[30]

Sellers was a Freemason and belonged to Chelsea Lodge No 3098, a lodge whose membership consists of celebrities and performers, through which means he socialised with a number of other actors and comedians.[32]

Royal Family

In her autobiography True Britt, Britt Ekland described Sellers' close relationship with the Royal Family. "I was completely unaware of his (Sellers) connection with the British monarchy. One afternoon before we married he had disappeared saying that he had to do something 'important'. I was to learn he had spent afternoon tea with the Queen Mother at Clarence House."[33] He was a close friend of Princess Margaret[34], who appears in one of his home movies.

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 of cars was also referenced in 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."

Personal conflicts

Sellers' personality was described by others as difficult and demanding and he often clashed with fellow actors and directors. He had a strained relationship with friend and director Blake Edwards, with whom he worked on the Pink Panther series and The Party. The two sometimes stopped speaking to each other during filming.[5]

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 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 by his treatment of actress Jo Van Fleet on the set of I Love You, Alice B. Toklas. 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 launch a tirade against Van Fleet in front of actors and crew.[5]

Sellers' difficulties to maintain civil and peaceful relationships also extended into his private life. He assaulted his then wife, Britt Ekland,[5] prompted by jealousy. Sellers sometimes blamed himself for his failed marriages. In a 1974 Parkinson interview, he admitted that "I'm not easy to live with".


In the spring of 1964, at age 38, Sellers suffered a series of heart attacks (13 in a few days) while working on the set of Billy Wilder's Kiss Me, Stupid, and he was replaced by Ray Walston. Although Sellers survived, his heart was permanently damaged. Sellers chose to consult with psychic healers rather than seek Western medical treatment, and his heart condition continued to deteriorate over the next 16 years. In late 1977, he suffered a second major heart attack, resulting in his being fitted with a pacemaker to regulate his heartbeat.[35] Once again, Sellers refused to slow down, nor did he follow doctors' orders and consider open heart surgery, which could well have extended his life by several years.[5]

A reunion dinner was scheduled in London with his Goon Show partners, Spike Milligan and Harry Secombe, for 25 July 1980. But around noon 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 his three children. At the time of his death, he was scheduled to undergo heart surgery in Los Angeles on 30 July 1980.[5]

Although Sellers was reportedly in the process of excluding Frederick from his will a week before he died, she inherited almost his entire estate worth an estimated £4.5 million while his children received £800 each.[5] When Frederick died in 1994 (aged 39), her mother Iris inherited everything, including all of the income and royalties from Sellers' work. When Iris dies the whole estate will go to Cassie, the daughter Lynne had with her third husband, Barry Unger. Sellers' only son, Michael, died of a heart attack at 52 during surgery on 24 July 2006 (26 years to the day after his father's death).[36] 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 piece.[37] His body was cremated and he was interred at Golders Green Crematorium in London. After her death in 1994, the ashes of his former widow Frederick were co-interred with his.[38]

Legacy and influence

The stage play, “Being Sellers,” premiered in Australia in 1998, three years after release of the biography by Roger Lewis, “The Life and Death of Peter Sellers.” The play premiered in New York in December 2010. In 2004, the book was turned into an HBO film, The Life and Death of Peter Sellers, starring Geoffrey Rush.[39]

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 Inspector Clouseau."

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 comedy insiders.[40] British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen frequently referred to Peter Sellers "as the most seminal force in shaping his early ideas on comedy". Cohen was considered for the role of the biopic The Life and Death of Peter Sellers (the role went to Australian actor Geoffrey Rush).[41]


Year Film Role Notes
1950 The Black Rose Alfonso Bedoya Voice (uncredited)
1951 Penny Points to Paradise The Major/Arnold Fringe
Let's Go Crazy Groucho/Giuseppe/Cedric
/Izzy/Gozzunk/Crystal Jollibottom
1952 Down Among the Z Men Major Bloodnok
1953 Our Girl Friday Parrot Voice (uncredited)
1954 Orders are Orders Private Griffin
1955 John and Julie Police Constable Diamond
The Ladykillers Mr. Robinson
1956 The Case of the Mukkinese Battle Horn Narrator/Supt. Quilt
/Asst. Commissioner Sir Jervis Fruit/Henry Crun
The Man Who Never Was Winston Churchill Voice only
1957 Insomnia Is Good for You Hector Dimwiddle Short film
The Smallest Show on Earth Leslie Quill
The Naked Truth Sonny McGregor
1958 Up the Creek CPO Doherty
tom thumb Antony
1959 Carlton-Browne of the F.O. Prime Minister Amphibulos
The Mouse That Roared Grand Duchess Gloriana XII / Prime Minister
Count Rupert Mountjoy / Tully Bascombe
Three roles.
I'm All Right Jack Fred Kite BAFTA Award for Best British Actor
The Battle of the Sexes Mr. Martin
1960 The Running Jumping & Standing Still Film Photographer Short Film
Also Writer/Producer/Director
San Francisco International Film Festival Award for Best Fiction Short
Nominated — Academy Award for Best Live Action Short Film
Never Let Go Lionel Meadows
The Millionairess Dr. Ahmed el Kabir
Two-Way Stretch Dodger Lane
1961 Mr. Topaze Auguste Topaze Also Director
1962 Only Two Can Play John Lewis Nominated — BAFTA Award for Best British Actor
Waltz of the Toreadors General Leo Fitzjohn San Sebastián International Film Festival Award for Best Actor
The Road to Hong Kong Indian Neurologist Uncredited
Lolita Clare Quilty Nominated — Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture
Trial and Error Wilfred Morgenhall
1963 The Wrong Arm of the Law Pearly Gates
Heavens Above! The Reverend John Smallwood
The Pink Panther Inspector Jacques Clouseau First in the Pink Panther series
Nominated — BAFTA Award for Best British Actor
Nominated — Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy
1964 Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb Group Captain Lionel Mandrake / President Merkin Muffley / Dr. Strangelove Three roles
Nominated — Academy Award for Best Actor
Nominated — BAFTA Award for Best British Actor
The World of Henry Orient Henry Orient
A Shot in the Dark Inspector Jacques Clouseau Sequel to the Pink Panther
1965 Birds, Bees and Storks Narrator Voice
What's New Pussycat Doctor Fritz Fassbender
1966 The Wrong Box Doctor Pratt
After the Fox Aldo Vanucci
1967 Casino Royale Evelyn Tremble Also (Uncredited) Writer
Woman Times Seven Jean
The Bobo Juan Bautista
1968 The Party Hrundi V. Bakshi
I Love You, Alice B. Toklas! Harold
1969 The Magic Christian Sir Guy Grand KG, KC, CBE Also Writer
1970 A Day at the Beach Salesman
Hoffman Benjamin Hoffman
Simon, Simon Man with two cars
There's a Girl in My Soup Robert Danvers
1972 Where Does It Hurt? Dr. Albert T. Hopfnagel
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland The March Hare
1973 Ghost in the Noonday Sun Dick Scratcher
The Blockhouse Rouquet
The Optimists Sam
1974 Soft Beds, Hard Battles Général Latour / Major Robinson / Herr Schroeder
/ Adolf Hitler / The President / Prince Kyoto
Played six roles.
The Great McGonagall Queen Victoria
1975 The Return of the Pink Panther Inspector Jacques Clouseau Third film by Sellers in the Pink Panther series
Evening Standard British Film Award for Best Actor
Nominated — Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy
1976 Murder by Death Sidney Wang
The Pink Panther Strikes Again Chief Inspector Jacques Clouseau Fourth film by Sellers in the Pink Panther series
Nominated — Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy
1978 The Muppet Show Various characters, including Inspector Clouseau, a gypsy, Queen Victoria, a masseur, and a preacher. Episode 43 originally aired February 27, 1978 in New York, and February 24, 1978 in Los Angeles
Kingdom of Gifts Larcenous Mayor Voice only
Revenge of the Pink Panther Chief Inspector Jacques Clouseau Fifth film by Sellers in the Pink Panther series
1979 The Prisoner of Zenda Rudolf IV / Rudolf V / Syd Frewin Played three roles.
Being There Chance Fotogramas de Plata for Best Foreign Performance
Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy
London Film Critics Circle Special Award
National Board of Review Award for Best Actor
Nominated — Academy Award for Best Actor
Nominated — BAFTA Award for Best British Actor
1980 The Fiendish Plot of Dr. Fu Manchu Dennis Nayland Smith / Dr. Fu 'Fred' Manchu Last film. Played two roles.
Also (Uncredited) Director
1982 Trail of the Pink Panther Chief Inspector Jacques Clouseau Footage of Sellers used.

Comedy singles

Sellers released several comedy singles, many of them produced by George Martin and released on the Parlophone record label. These include the following hits:

  • "Any Old Iron" (1957) UK # 17
  • "Goodness Gracious Me" (1960) with Sophia Loren UK # 4
  • "Bangers and Mash" (1961), a follow-up also featuring Sophia Loren UK # 22
  • "A Hard Day's Night" (1965) UK # 14. This consisted of him speaking the lyrics using the stereotypical voice of an actor playing Shakespeare's Richard III. He also performed the song in costume on television. The recording was re-issued in 1993 and reached Number 52 in the UK Singles Chart.

He covered several other Beatles hits, including "Help!" and "She Loves You". Sellers also recorded a parody version of "Unchained Melody", which long went unreleased.

When asked in 1960 what he thought the music business would be like in ten years' time, Sellers retorted:

Ten years older!

NME, November 1960.[42]


Sellers made several albums, mostly of comedy pieces using his talent for voices.


  • The Best of Sellers (1959) UK # 3
  • Songs For Swinging Sellers (1959) UK # 3
  • Peter & Sophia (1960) UK # 5 with Sophia Loren
  • Fool Britannia (1963) UK # 10 with Anthony Newley and Joan Collins.
  • How To Win An Election (1964) UK # 20 with Harry Secombe and Spike Milligan (Note: unlike The Last Goon Show Of All this release was not credited to The Goons.)
  • He's Innocent of Watergate (1974) with Spike Milligan
  • Sellers Market (1979) his final album

Further reading

See also


  1. ^ name="">"Peter Sellers – Britannica Online Encyclopedia". Retrieved 2010-10-05. 
  2. ^ Peter Sellers Bio, Turner Classic Movies
  3. ^ Arena, BBC , The Peter Sellers Story...As He Filmed It
  4. ^ Peter Hall, on Arena BBC TV The Peter Sellers Story...As He Filmed It
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x Sikov, Ed (2002). Mr. Strangelove: a biography of Peter Sellers. Pan MacMillan. ISBN 0283072970. 
  6. ^ [1]
  7. ^ Lewis, Roger. The Life and Death of Peter Sellers, Hal Leonard Corp. (1997) p. 22
  8. ^ Walker, Alexander. Peter Sellers, Macmillan Publ. N.Y. (1981) pp. 10–13
  9. ^ a b Playboy magazine Interview, October 1962
  10. ^ Louvish, Simon (5 October 2002). "Here, there and everywhere". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 22 May 2010. 
  11. ^ Peter Sellers/Parkinson interview
  12. ^ "Sellers Market by Peter Sellers on MSN Music". Retrieved 2010-10-05. 
  13. ^ The Times Newspaper; June 27, 1962
  14. ^ a b c d e LoBrutto, Vincent. Stanley Kubrick: A Biography, Da Capo Press (1999) pp. 204–205
  15. ^ Terry Southern, "Notes from The War Room", Grand Street, issue #49
  16. ^ Lee Hill, "Interview with a Grand Guy": interview with Terry Southern
  17. ^ In the fictionalized biopic The Life and Death of Peter Sellers, it is suggested that Sellers faked the injury as a way to force Kubrick to release him from the contractual obligation to play this fourth role.
  18. ^ Kinn, Gail; Piazza, Jim. The Greatest Movies Ever, Black Dog Publishing (2008) p. 127
  19. ^ a b c Smith, Danny. "Giving Peter Sellers a Chance: Danny Smith talks to Jerzy Kosinski", Third Way, Feb. 1981 pp. 22–23
  20. ^ a b c d Dawson, Nick. Being Hal Ashby: Life of a Hollywood Rebel, Univ. of Kentucky Press (2009) p. 147, 211
  21. ^ a b Rich, Frank. "Gravity Defied" Time, Jan. 14, 1980
  22. ^,6771812&hl=en
  23. ^ Annette Slattery (2006-07-16). "Dead Comics Society — Peter Sellers". The Groggy Squirrel. Retrieved 2007-06-11. 
  24. ^ "Peter Sellers on the Muppet Show". 
  25. ^ Parkinson: The Interviews series
  26. ^ Roger Lewis (1997). The life and death of Peter Sellers. Applause Books N.Y.. p. 111. ISBN 1-55783-248-X. 
  27. ^ Sikov, Mr. Strangelove: A Biography of Peter Sellers, p. 172.
  28. ^ Sikov, p. 206.
  29. ^ Lewis. The Life and Death of Peter Sellers, p. 184.
  30. ^ a b "Seth Rogen To Grace Cover Of Playboy". Access Hollywood. 18 Feb 2009. Retrieved 1 March 2011. 
  31. ^ Sikov, p. 146
  32. ^ "MQ magazine on-line". 1903-05-01. Retrieved 2010-10-05. 
  33. ^ "Page 58, True Britt by Britt Ekland". Retrieved 2010-10-05. 
  34. ^ "Margaret: Unlucky in Love", BBC World News, 9 February 2002
  35. ^[dead link]
  36. ^ a b c The Telegraph UK Details on Michael Sellers
  37. ^ "". Retrieved 2010-10-05. 
  38. ^ Mail Online The girl who got Peter Sellers' £5m – and she never even met him
  39. ^ Merwin, Ted. "Who Was Peter Sellers?", The Jewish Week, Nov. 23, 2010
  40. ^ "Cook voted 'comedians' comedian'". BBC News. 2005-01-02. Retrieved 2008-06-15. 
  41. ^ Saunders, Robert A. The Many Faces of Sacha Baron Cohen, Lexington Books (2007) p. 22
  42. ^ Tobler, John (1992). NME Rock 'N' Roll Years (1st ed.). London: Reed International Books Ltd. p. 89. CN 5585. 
  43. ^ The Independent UK Michael Sellers Obituary 7 August 2006

External links

Video clips

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