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Peter Sellers: Comedic Spirit - Troubled Soul

By Edited Nov 13, 2013 4 7

Professionally Funny - Personally Serious

The assistant to the police chief questioned Inspector Jacques Clouseau regarding a bomb, saying; "Do you know what kind of a bomb it was?" Clouseau replies "The exploding kind." That is just one of the many funny lines from the Pink Panther movies. The most popular of the series stars Peter Sellers as the infamous Inspector Jacques Clousequ. Although Sellers played many different characters throughout his illustrious career, his most famous and beloved character is the bumbling and entertaining Inspector Clouseau.

It’s unfortunate that Sellers' personal life was anything but cheerful and comical. He lived more of a serious and introspective existence, once saying "I'm a classic example of all humorists - only funny when I'm working." and "To see me as a person on screen would be one of the dullest experiences you could ever wish to experience."[1]

Credit: wikimedia commons by Chicago Sun Times / United Artists studios

Peter Sellers: Comedic Spirit - Troubled Soul

Getting There

Sellers got his start in show business in 1951 voicing several characters for a program called "The Goon Show." Years later, Prince Charles of England said he'd been a fan of The Goon Show and Sellers. Sellers got work on several low budget movies and his performances were always memorable.

A break came after playing a role in the 1959 movie "I'm All Right Jack." His performance and the success of the movie lead to a role in the1962 Stanley Kubrick movie "Lolita," where Sellers played the character of Clare Quilty, a quirky and unstable writer.[2] After Lolita, Sellers worked with Kubrick again in the movie "Dr. Strangelove." This 1964 film showcased Sellers' comedic and acting talent, playing three roles with three diverse characters, each with a different accent (American, British, and German).  Sellers was honored with an Oscar nomination for his multiple character roles in Dr. Strangelove.[1]

Pink Panther Coruna
Credit: Wikimedia Commons by JJ Georges

Pink Panther

Sellers' most famous character, Inspector Jacques Clouseau, was introduced in 1964 with the release of the movie "The Pink Panther." The movie was co-written by Maurice Richlin and Blake Edwards, who also directed the film. In addition to Sellers, the film also starred David Niven, Robert Wagner, and Claudia Cardinale.

Sellers played the famous inspector in The Pink Panther; A Shot in the Dark; The Return of the Pink Panther, The Pink Panther Strikes Again and Revenge of the Pink Panther, which contained footage from the previous Pink Panther films. The movie "Trial of the Pink Panther" was completed after Sellers' death and previously unseen footage was used in the movie.[3]

In one memorable scene from the Pink Panther series, Clouseau's manservant, Cato Fong (played by actor Burt Kwouk), ambushes him in his own home. Cato was attempting to aid his boss, and what follows is a hilarious scene of both men battling each other.  There are other very funny scenes and much of the comedy is a result of Sellers' comedic talent.

In addition to the physical comedy the dialog is quite humorous as well. In The Pink Panther Strikes Again, the following conversation takes place between Clouseau and a hotel clerk: Inspector Clouseau says "Does your dog bite?" To which the hotel clerk replies "No." Clouseau then bends down and pets the dog and says "Nice doggie." To which the dog barks and bites him in the hand. Whereby he says "I thought you said your dog did not bite!" The hotel clerk then answers "That is not my dog."[5]

Although none of the Pink Panther movies ever won an Oscar, Blake Edwards was awarded with an honorary Oscar at the 2004 Academy Awards ceremony. In addition, the song "Come To Me," written by Henry Mancini and Don Black, and performed by Tom Jones, received a nomination for "Best Song" at the 49th Academy Awards.

Cato vs Clouseau - The Pink Panther Strikes Again


Being There

Sellers was on the cover of Playboy Magazine in April of 1964, making him the first male on the cover. After starring the movie "Kiss Me, Stupid," Sellers had to be replaced when he suffered a major heart attack.

In 1965 Sellers presented the Beatles with a Grammy Award (which he called "Grandma Award") for "A Hard Days’ Night." After that, Sellers and the Beatles had a brief sing-along. That presentation was tapped and a clip was shown on during a Grammy Awards telecast of "The Best of Record."

Unfortunately, as Sellers celebrity grew so did his insecurities and ego. In 1967 word was spreading that Sellers was difficult to work with and he was accused of being the cause for the movie "Casino Royale" (a Bond spoof) going over budget.

In 1968 Sellers starred in the movie "I Love You, Alice B. Toklas!" He played a Jewish lawyer who becomes immersed in the hippie lifestyle after becoming enamored with a young hippie girl.[4] That same year Sellers starred in "The Party," directed by Blake Edwards. He played an Indian actor who is accidently invited to a Hollywood party and ends up running the entire event.

Sellers turned-down an offer to reprise his famous role in the movie "Inspector Clouseau" and he became angry when the role was offered to another actor. Reports of erratic behavior continued and by the early 1970s he no longer carried the same clout. The actor often made guest appearances on such television programs as "The Dean Martin Show" and a Glen Campbell television special.[1]

Sellers reprised his role as Inspector Clouseau in 1975 in the movie "Return of the Pink Panther." It was a hit and he played his famous character again in 1976 in "The Pink Panther Strikes Again." That same year Sellers was part of an ensemble cast in the comedy "Murder by Death." He was unrecognizable as a "Charlie Chan" character in the murder mystery movie. In 1978 he played Inspector Clouseau for the final time in the movie "The Revenge of the Pink Panther." These movies put Sellers back at the top and he used his popularity to land the Oscar nominated role of Chauncey Gardiner in the 1979 movie "Being There."

Sellers-1971 signed
Credit: Wikimedia Commons by RR Auction

Greatest Comedian of All Time

Sellers was first married in 1951 at the age of 26, to Anne Howe. The marriage lasted 10 years and produced 2 children. In 1964 he married actress Britt Ekland, the couple had one child and divorced in 1968. Sellers then married Miranda Quarry in 1970 but they were divorced four years later in 1974. Peter Sellers final marriage was in 1977 to Lynne Frederick and they remained married until his death in 1980. He once said of actress Sophia Loren; "I was never in love with any woman as deeply as I was with Sophia."[1]

Sellers once said he had a near-death experience during a heart attack and claimed he saw Heaven. In addition, he told Blake Edwards that he’d "talked to God" regarding a scene in a movie and that God told him what to do.[1]

On July 22, 1980 Sellers suffered a massive heart attack. He fell into a coma and died two days later on July 24, he was 54.

Peter Sellers has been referred to as the greatest comedian of all time and although he made several movies, most people will remember him as the inept but lovable Inspector Clouseau.

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Mar 6, 2013 8:53am
Hi--Thanks for the memories of Peter Sellers; he was certainly unique ina world of movie making and, for that matter, comedy. Two BIG thumbs for the topoc and a rating for your excellent writing.
Mar 6, 2013 10:37am
Sellers was brilliant - so was the Goon Show. Excellent article.
Apr 15, 2013 2:58am
Peter Seller's Clouseau is for sure the best one ever! I've heard about his troubled life, he was a very difficult character they say... but for sure he could make us laugh!
Apr 17, 2013 11:00am
He was a fantastic comedian. Thanks for sharing his life experiences.
Apr 17, 2013 10:35pm
Excellent article - entertaining and well done.
Apr 18, 2013 10:28am
Certainly one of the greatest comedians ever. Set aside his personal problems he will be always remember for the 'Inspector Clouseau' role. Thanks for the article.
Aug 29, 2013 9:02am

Your YouTube video was certainly one of the funniest bits of the entire Pink Panther series. It's SUCH a shame that "Being There" is so unsung, instead of people knowing it as the great movie that it is!

There's an amazing amount of subtle bits of humor - which show Peter Sellers at his ABSOLUTE best! What a shame that he died about a year later. One of my favorite movies of all time. You ALWAYS find new things every time you re-watch that film.

Nice job on putting Peter Sellers back in the spotlight!
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  1. "Biography for Peter Sellers." IMDb. 1/01/2013 <Web >
  2. Lolita. New York City: G.P. Putnam's Sons , 1958 .
  3. "Fun Trivia: Peter Sellers." Encyclopedia Trivia. 1/01/2013 <Web >
  4. "Peter Sellers Profile." Turner Classic Movies. 61/031/2013 <Web >
  5. "Memorable quotes for The Pink Panther Strikes Again." IMDb . 1/01/2013 <Web >

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