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Richard Henry Sellers, CBE, commonly known as Peter Sellers (8 September 1925 – 24 July 1980) was a Britishmarker comedian and actor best known for his roles in Dr. Strangelove, as Chief Inspector Clouseau in The Pink Panther film series, as Clare Quilty in the original 1962 screen version of Lolita, and as the guileless man-child Chance in his penultimate film, Being There.

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), along with his talent to portray a range of characters to comedic 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's private life was characterized by turmoil and crises, and included emotional problems and substance abuse. Sellers was married four times, with three children from two of the marriages.

Life and career

Early life

Sellers was born in Southseamarker, Portsmouth to a family of entertainers. His parents nicknamed him Peter at an early age, after his elder stillborn brother. He attended the North London Roman Catholic school, St. Aloysius Collegemarker, although his father, Yorkshiremarker-born Bill Sellers (1900 - 1962), was Protestant and his mother, Agnes Doreen 'Peg' née Marks (1892 - 1967), was Jewish. His maternal grandmother, Benvenida Welcome Mendoza (1855 - 1932), was of Portuguese-Jewish descent; her grandfather, Mordecai Mendoza (1774 - 1851), was a first cousin of English prizefighter Daniel Mendoza (1764 - 1836). Sellers was 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 burlesque Windmill Theatremarker 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 Indiamarker and Burmamarker, although the duration of his stay in Asia is unknown and its length may have been exaggerated by Sellers himself. He also served in Germanymarker and Francemarker 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' 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.

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, star of the radio show Much Binding in the Marsh, to get Speer to speak to him.

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, contained material written by Frank Muir and Dennis Norden and featured Sellers performing "Puttin on the Style" (a parody of the skiffle movement's performer Lonnie Donegan). He also appeared with guest Irene Handl on the track "Shadows on the Grass" where he plays the part of an Indian man befriending a lady in the park. Musical direction was by Ron Goodwin.

In 1979 he released a third gatefold album entitled Sellers' Market (the cover shows him standing next to a trader reading the Wall Street Times whereas Sellers is standing similarly 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 ukelele 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 is still sought after by collectors. All three albums exploited Sellers's ability to use his flexible voice to enormous comedic effect.

Film career

Playing as Sonny MacGregor an impersonator of sorts in the Sonny MacGregor Show in The Naked Truth (1957)
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 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. He starred in Stanley Kubrick's Lolita as Clare Quilty, opposite James Mason as Humbert Humbert. In portraying Quilty, Sellers proved a scene stealer. He had a cameo in The Road to Hong Kong, the seventh and last in the "Road" series, starring Bing Crosby and Bob Hope.

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 Texasmarker accent, but screen writer Terry Southern made a recording of his own 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. For his performance in all three roles, Sellers was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor, but lost to Rex Harrison in My Fair Lady.

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 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.

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 (almost an Indian version of Inspector Clouseau), 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 Sellers faced a downturn, and was dubbed "box office poison". But after the successful return of the 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."

Personal and professional struggles

Sellers had a difficult 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 and The Party. The two sometimes stopped speaking to each other during filming.

Sellers's personality was described by others as difficult and demanding. His behaviour caused physical and emotional hurt to others, notably his first three wives and his children. As portrayed in the film The Life and Death of Peter Sellers, he told his seven-year-old son Michael that he thought that his mother, Anne Howe, was having an affair, around the time that the couple divorced. Michael's close friend at prep school (The Hall School, Hampsteadmarker) was Marc Sinden. In an interview Sinden said that Peter Sellers always behaved very badly towards Michael and recalled seeing some of the letters Michael received from his father, concluding that the elder Sellers was a "really, really nasty man". Sellers is known to have assaulted Britt Ekland, prompted by unsubstantiated jealousy. On occasion however, Sellers blamed himself for his failed marriages. In a 1974 Parkinson interview, he admitted that "I'm not easy to live with". He explained that the divorce from Howe had been due to a romance with "someone I worked with", suggesting that it had been Sophia Loren, as indicated by Sellers playfully humming their mutual single hit "Goodness Gracious Me", when asked by Parkinson about the purported affair.

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.

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 Gestapomarker, 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.

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 believed that his drug use, especially amyl nitrites, contributed to heart attack in 1964 (see below). Sellers became aware that his frail psyche affected his career and life, but rather than seek professional counselling he opted for periodic consultations with astrologer Maurice Woodruff, who seemed to have held 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, based on Terry Southern's novel and 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, 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'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, which may or may not have been consummated. Sellers was the first man on the cover of Playboy — he appeared on the April 1964 cover with Karen Lynn.

He was a Freemason and belonged to Chelsea Lodge No 3098, a lodge whose membership is made up of celebrities and performers, through which means he socialised with a number of other actors and comedians.

Obsession with automobiles

Sellers had a lifelong obsession with cars (referring to himself as an "auto-erotic" ), 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 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:
  1. Actress Anne Howe (1951–1961). They had two children, Michael and Sarah.
  2. Swedishmarker actress Britt Ekland (1964–1968). They had a daughter, Victoria Sellers. The couple appeared in three films together: Carol For Another Christmas (1964), After the Fox (1966) and The Bobo (1967).
  3. Australian model Miranda Quarry (now the Countess of Stockton) (1970–1974).
  4. English actress Lynne Frederick (1977–1980), who was briefly married to Sir David Frost shortly after Sellers's death.

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 Quarry.


In 1964, at age 38, Sellers suffered a series of heart attacks (13 in a few days), which permanently damaged his heart. Sellers's heart condition then deteriorated because, instead of electing Western medical treatment, he only consulted with "psychic healers." He also had a pacemaker implanted in the late 1970s, which caused him considerable problems.

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 Hotelmarker room and fell into a coma. He died in a Londonmarker 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 Angelesmarker within the month.

Although Sellers was reportedly in the process of excluding Frederick from his will a week before he died of a heart attack in 1980, she inherited almost his entire estate worth an estimated £4.5 million while his children received £800 each. When Frederick died in 1994 (aged 39), her mother Iris inherited everything, including all of the income and royalties from Sellers's work. When Iris dies the whole estate will go to Cassie, the daughter Lynne had with her third husband, Barry Unger. Sellers's 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). 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. His body was cremated and he was interred at Golders Green Crematoriummarker in London. After her death in 1994, the ashes of his widow Lynne were co-interred with his.


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.


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

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
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
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 Chief 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 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 Chief 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
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
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 Chief 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 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.
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 Top 75 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.


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


Further reading

  • 1108 pages. Published in the U.S. via Applause Books Roger Lewis's biography of Sellers is very comprehensive, and includes a very comprehensive index.
  • Mr Strangelove;A Biography of Peter Sellers, a book by Ed Sikov
  • P.S. I Love You by Michael Sellers 1981
  • A Hard Act to Follow Michael Sellers (with Gary Morecambe, 1996).
  • Sellers on Sellers Michael Sellers (2000, co-written with Gary Morecambe)

See also


External links

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