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A Brief Profile of Peter Sellers

A Brief Profile of Peter Sellers

The Early Life of Peter Sellers

Peter Sellers was born Richard Henry Sellers on 8 September 1925, in Southsea, Portsmouth. His parents, William “Bill” and Agnes ”Peg” Sellers, were both were variety entertainers. Although they christened their only child Richard Henry, they often referred to him as Peter. This was the name Sellers’ parents had also given to his elder stillborn sibling. Sellers made his stage debut at the King’s Theatre, Southsea, aged only two weeks old. He was brought on to the stage by a family friend and entertainer Dickie Henderson. As a child, Sellers would often accompany his parents in their variety act that toured Britain’s provincial theatres.

Acting Career

Sellers enlisted in the Royal Air Force during World War II. He ended up in Ralph Reader’s wartime Gang Show entertainment troupe, which toured both Britain and the Far East. It was a member of the troupe that developed his mimicry and comedic skills. After the war, Sellers made his radio debut in ‘ShowTime’, and eventually became a regular performer on BBC radio. In 1951, Sellers teamed up with fellow comedians Spike Milligan, Harry Secombe and Michael Bentine. They came to prominence in the BBC’s offbeat but highly successful ‘The Goon Show’.

He made his film debut in Penny Points to Paradise (1951) and then secured a part in Down Among the Z Men (1952). A major part of the Ealing comedy and critically acclaimed The Ladykillers (1955) gave Sellars international exposure. His big breakthrough eventually came in 1959 when he was handed a starring role as union man Fred Kite in the film ‘I’m All Right Jack’.


By 1964, Sellers was at the peak of his career, starring in four major film releases of that year. His performance in ‘Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb’, earned him an Oscar nomination. In The Pink Panther (1963), and the sequel, A Shot in the Dark, he gained rave reviews as the bumbling Inspector Clouseau. His star performance in The World of Henry Orient, also 1964, earned him both audience and critical acclaim.

Sellers as Dr Strangelove (1964). Photo credit: Flickr/CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

However, quite unexpectedly, on 5 April 1964, Sellers suffered a massive heart attack after inhaling amyl nitrate. He had taken the sex stimulant with the intention of spicing up his love life with his new wife Britt Ekland. However, by October 1964, Sellers had managed to make a full recovery and was soon working again.

The Final Years of Peter Sellers

Between the mid-1960s and early 70s, Sellars career took a somewhat of a nosedive after several of his films flopped at the box office. However, good fortune saw him given the opportunity to resurrect his role as Inspector Clouseau in ‘The Return of the Pink Panther’ (1975) with great success. He then went on to play Clouseau twice more with equal acclaim. These sequels were The Pink Panther Strikes Again (1976) and Revenge of the Pink Panther (1978). With Sellers firmly back in the limelight he then managed to land his dream role as Chauncey Gardiner in a film adaptation of Jerzy Kosinski’s novel ‘Being There’ (1979). His performance earned him his second Oscar nomination, losing out to Dustin Hoffman in Kramer vs Kramer.

Peter Sellars appeared in more than 70 films between 1951 and 1980.  Though, his last movie, The Fiendish Plot of Dr. Fu Manchu, completed only a few months before his death in July 1980, proved to be a box office flop.


Personal Life and Death

Sellers struggled with depression and related mental disorders throughout most of his life. His on and off-the-set behaviour could reportedly become erratic for no apparent reason. He developed a reputation as being difficult to work with and would frequently clash with both film crew, especially directors, and his co-stars. This was especially true during the mid-1970s when his dependency on drugs and alcohol was at their greatest, and his physical and mental health were at their worst.

Sellars married four times in all, which were to actress Anne Hayes (1951  – 1963), model and socialite Miranda Quarry (1970 –  1974), Swedish actress Britt Ekland (1964 – 1968), and actress Lynne Frederick ( 1977 –  1980 and death). His liaisons produced three children, Michael and Sarah, to his marriage with Hayes, and Victoria when wedded to Ekland.

On July 25, 1980, Sellers had planned a reunion dinner in London with fellow Goon Show stars, Spike Milligan and Harry Secombe. However, on July 22, Sellers collapsed from a massive heart attack at the capital’s Dorchester Hotel and fell into a coma. He died in a London hospital just after midnight on 24 July 1980 at the age of just 54-years-old.


Header photo credit:  Flickr/CC0 1.0 DEED


Comments 1

  1. A Brief Profile of John Le Mesurier – Entertainment

    […] solicitor, judge etc. In the early 1960s, he appeared in three films that starred comedy legend Peter Sellars, which included ‘The Pink Panther’ […]


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