Richard Henry Sellers, better known
as Peter Sellers, was a British comedian, talented
comic actor, and performer on The Goon Show (a long-running
BBC radio show, 1951-1960). Sellers was born in Southsea,
Hampshire, England, to a family of entertainers.
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
skillful player of the ukulele and banjo, and a drummer
good enough to tour with several jazz bands. 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.
Sellers' 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, Harry Secombe
and Michael Bentine and was followed by early television
Sellers' first film successes were in British comedy
films, 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. The movie The Trail of the Pink
Panther was released posthumously in 1982, containing
previously unused footage of Sellers. Sellers' widow
Lynne Frederick later successfully sued the film's
Sellers was launched internationally with the hit "The
Millionairess". In Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove
or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
he notably played the triple role consisting of President
Merkin Muffley of the United States, Dr. Strangelove,
and Group Captain Lionel Mandrake of the RAF (the first
two appearing in the same room throughout the film).
He was remarkably versatile, switching easily from
brilliant themes as in The Party, to more intense performances
as in Lolita (from Vladimir Nabokov's notorious novel).
Sellers' career slumped in 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, as well as his second
Academy Award nomination.
Commonly considered a master actor, 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
He was nominated twice for an Academy Award, but
was unsuccessful on both occasions although he won
a British Academy Award (BAFTA) for I'm All Right Jack.
With Sophia Loren Sellers recorded the top 10 UK single "Goodness
Sellers was married four times, his first to actress
Anne Howe ended after she claimed he was having an
affair with Sophia Loren though Loren has maintained
that Sellers had become obsessed with her but it was
not reciprocated. His second marriage was to the Swedish
actress Britt Ekland. In 1970 he married Miranda Quarry.
His wife at the time of his death was Lynne Frederick,
who later married Sir David Frost. 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 a few tens of
different cars by the late sixties. This was briefly
parodied in a fleeting cameo in the short film Simon
Simon, directed by his colleague Graham Stark.
Sellers died at age 54 of a heart attack on July
24, 1980, in London, England, having already suffered
a near-fatal heart attack in 1964 at the age of 38.
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 so called "quack 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
Roger Lewis wrote about the "madness" and
bizarre behavior 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.