Peter Sellers' life and career seems to belong in the fairy tale world. In his days, he enjoyed acceptance and fame, yet he also faced his career's downfall and the apocathelosis from stardom. Happiness and loneliness interchanged many times and, as it happens in all happy-ending tales, glory and fame returned and stayed until the end. The end which sadly came early...
Birth - Childhood
Richard Henry Sellers (his birth name) was born on 8 September 1925. He was the only child of Bill and Peg, who were music hall entertainers. He was a lonely boy, living a nomadic life (due to the frequent changes of address) observing people around him. This way, by "studying" human behaviour, he enhanced his physical talent of vocal flexibility and mimicry.
First Steps in Showbiz - WW II
Soon, he decided that theatre wasn't the right place for him and became a drummer. His father also taught him ukelele and piano. As a teenager, he launched a small but impressive career as a jazz drummer until he joined the army, during the WWII. There, failing to become a pilot due to poor eyesight, he joined the famous Gang shows and travelled with it around the camps entertaining the troops. Having a strange taste of humour and absolute despise towards danger, he'd put on make-up and dress like a pilot or a major (off stage!) and inspect his fellow soldiers and officers, risking a dishonourable discharge and- even imprisonment!
After the end of the war, he was a talented, yet usually unemployed drummer. He decided to get advantage of his talent in mimicry and started appearing onstage as a comedian. His first works were as a stand-up comedian in strip shows! Once, when waiting… eternally for BBC's reply after an audition, he decided to phone a producer and miming two contemporary radio personalities' voices, he suggested… himself as a new talent! That was his ticket to the BBC!
The turning point of his career came when he met three other young comedians: Spike Milligan, Harry Secombe and Michael Bentine. Soon, they were to become the Goons, the comedy team who changed English comedy forever. The first Goon Show aired on BBC radio in 1951 and lasted until early 1960, breaking any conventional rule of comedy, satirizing any social status, using… impossible sound effects in the plot, ad-libbing. Using stable characters in absolutely surrealistic situations, the Goons became the fathers of modern comedy, having numerous fans all over the world even nowadays! These shows were performed and recorded live and transmitted three days later. It's sad Goonish humour appeared on screen, only in a few cases and even then not in its full extend (The Case Of The Mukkinese Battlehorn, Running, Jumping, Standing Still Film, A Show Called Fred).
Sellers made his screen debut in 1951 in "Penny Points To Paradise". His first important role was in "Ladykillers", next to his idol, Alec Guiness. International stardom followed in 1959 by "I'm All Right Jack" (won the Best British Actor Award) and "The Mouse That Roared". In 1961 he directed and starred in "Mr.Topaze" and in 1962 he worked with Stanley Kubrick. Two years later, they rejoined forces in "Dr.Strangelove". Kubrick let Sellers follow his wild, inspired improvisation in both cases and Sellers won his first Oscar nomination.
In 1963, the cheerful "Pink Panther" raised its lovely head and Sellers created Inspector Clouseau, his most famous role. A place in history was already won! The follow-up Clouseau film "A Shot In The Dark" was even more successful! After his heart troubles, in 1964, his come- back film was "What's New Pussycat?" which became a major hit. But then Sellers ran out of luck. The next films were commercially flops and for nearly a decade his career went from bad to worse: ambitious plans that didn't work (After The Fox, The Party, I Love You Alice B. Toklas, The Magic Christian, Hoffman), or weren't even released (The Blockhouse, A Day At The Beach, Ghost In The Noonday Sun) and some that were… unfortunately released (Where Does It Hurt?). His only successes were "There's A Girl In My Soup" (1970- with Goldie Hawn) and the Goons' reunion for one last time (1972). By
|| 1974, his career was almost in ruins, when a…pink sunshine appeared once more: "The Return Of The Pink Panther" was a HUGE success and brought Sellers back to stardom. Two even more successful Panthers followed up.
Since the early 70's, Sellers' biggest ambition was to film "Being There", a bittersweet satire on humanity and politics. Peter found his "nobody" personality in the character of Chancey; a simple-minded, middle-aged man whose only "window" in the world is a television set and his garden. In 1979, the film was made. It returned triumphant reviews and another Oscar nomination for Peter. Alas, he was refused the Oscar award again…
Since 1953, Sellers started a parallel recording career, performing comedy sketches and song parodies. His first LP "Best Of Sellers" was made in 1959, the 2nd "Songs For Swinging Sellers" followed in 1959 and in 1960 he reached No4 of the British charts, by a duet with Sophia Loren in "Goodness Gracious Me!" (A song inspired by the characters of the film they both starred in- The Millionairess). His 3 rd LP was "Peter And Sophia"(1960). In 1965, Sellers recorded his funny versions of some Beatles classics. A 4 th and final album was released in 1979 ("Sellers Market").
world. Yet, happiness wouldn't last: he walked out from Billy Wilder's film "Kiss Me Stupid" and came in direct opposition with Hollywood. At this point, Peter Sellers died. Or almost. In April 1964, his heart stopped beating. He was rushed to Cedars Hospital and was brought back to life. During the next hours his heart stopped beating another seven times! He miraculously survived and was suggested a year's rest.
Near-fatal heart attack
Peter was married with Anne Howe since 1951. They divorced in 1962 and in 1964 he married the Swedish actress, Britt Ekland. Their marriage lasted until 1968. In 1970, Sellers married Miranda Quarry, but neither this marriage was to last (divorced in 1974), and in 1977 he married Lynne Frederick, another marriage which proved to be not a happy one. Peter had three children: Michael and Sarah (with Anne Howe) and Victoria (with Britt Ekland).
By 1964, he was the most popular character - comedy actor of the
In the late 70's, Sellers' health was rapidly deteriorating. In July 1980, he decided to have a heart operation in L.A. Before flying to L.A for this purpose, he went to London for a dinner with his ex-Goons pals, Spike Milligan and Harry Secombe. Yet, the meeting was not to take place. Peter collapsed in his Dorchester hotel room and died in the hospital 36 hours later, on 24 th July 1980. He was only 54 years old…
Sellers had chosen his last joke for his funeral. When his coffin was about to be cremated, Glenn Miller's "In The Mood" was the "soundtrack": It was a song he detested!
Awards - Nominations
OSCAR: Being There (n)
Dr. Strangelove (n)
The Running, Jumping, Standing Still Film (n)
BAFTA: I'm All Right Jack (won)
Only Two Can Play (n)
Pink Panther (n)
Dr. Strangelove (n)
Being There (n)
GOLDEN GLOBES: Being There (won)
Pink Panther Strikes Again (n)
Return Of The Pink Panther (n)
Pink Panther (n)
EMMY: Muppet Show (n)
LAUREL AWARDS: Pink Panther (n)
What's New Pussycat? (n)
I Love You Alice B. Toklas (n)
SAN SEBASTIAN: Waltz Of The Toreadors (won)
NATIONAL BOARD OF REVIEW USA: Being There (won)
LONDON CRITICS CIRCLE: Being There (won)
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