The biography of world famous comedian Peter Sellers by Ed Sikov is both a triumph and a tragedy of the celebrated actor made most famous by his role as Inspector Clouseau in the Blake Edwards directed Pink Panther series of films. He was born into a British vaudevillian performing family with a Protestant father and a Jewish mother in 1925. He grew into a momma's boy and a chubby adolescent. A natural born ham and cutup with a craving for attention, he played the drums well enough to get bookings with a band before he served in the British military during WWII.
His first big break into performing occurs on radio in 1951 with The Goon Show that starred Spike Milligan, Michael Bentine, and Harry Secombe. The show was a phenomenon and went on to influence entertainers in Britain from The Beatles to Monty Python. His movie career began inauspiciously enough with roles in several films starting in the year 1950, most of which have not stood the test of time. However, he continued to impress directors and audiences with his wit, ability to create hilarious voices, and a genius for improvisation. By the 1960's he was one of the world's most popular and busiest actors over that decade appearing in such classic movies as The Mouse That Roared (1959), Lolita, Dr. Strangelove, I Love You; Alice B. Toklas!, The Pink Panther, What's New Pussycat?, A Shot in the Dark, Casino Royale, The Wrong Box, The Party, The Life of Henry Orient, and There's a Girl in My Soup (1970), often portraying more than one character in a film. He became very self-conscious of his weight and appearance as he landed leading parts with sexy leading women.
On the movie set, Sellers was a tremendously difficult actor to work with but his talent and audience appeal made him very much in demand. His moody and challenging nature also made it difficult in his personal life for him to maintain close personal relationships with men and women. He alienated many long-time friends and had four marriages, three of which ended in badly in divorce. In each case he was involved with the next wife-to-be while the current marriage dissolved. His relationship and subsequent high profile divorce from actress Britt Ekland was especially painful for him. In the 70's as the quality of his films declined, he became estranged from his children, choosing to pursue a jet set lifestyle while making movies “for the money”. He suffered from poor health and did very little to take care of his body as he frequently abused drugs and alcohol, and smoked heavily. His death by heart attack in 1980 at the age of 54 was not surprising but unexpected and tragic regardless.
This report prepared by David Fletcher