Peter Sellers Biography
Richard Henry "Peter" Sellers, CBE (September 8, 1925 – July 24, 1980) was an English comedian, actor, and performer, who came to prominence on the BBC radio series The Goon Show and later became a film star. He is regarded by many as one of the best comedy actors of his generation.
Sellers was born in Southsea, Portsmouth, England, to a family of entertainers. Despite his real name being Richard Henry Sellers, his parents called him "Peter" from an early age, in memory of his older still-born brother of that name. He attended a Catholic school, although his father Bill was Protestant and his mother Agnes ("Peg") was Jewish.
Probably following his family in the variety circuit, Sellers learnt this popular yet difficult art and the immediate instinct of the "gag". He was an incredibly versatile artist: an excellent dancer, a drummer good enough to tour with several jazz bands (an excellent clip of him drumming exists when he was a guest on the Steve Allen show in 1964), and a skillful player of the ukulele and banjo (family legend has it that Sellers' father actually taught George Formby to play the ukulele). He is known to have performed at the Windmill Theatre.
During World War II, Sellers was an airman in the Royal Air Force, rising to corporal by the end of the war. During his leisure periods, he did impersonations of his superiors. This helped Sellers in his later film Dr. Strangelove.
His success was quite slow in coming. He phoned up a television producer pretending to be Kenneth Horne, who was currently in the show Much Binding in the Marsh, in order to get them to speak to him. Success came as one of the Goons on the radio programme The Goon Show with fellow comedians Spike Milligan, Harry Secombe and Michael Bentine and was followed by early television work.
Sellers' first film successes were in British comedies, including The Ladykillers (1955), I'm All Right Jack (1959) and The Mouse That Roared (1959). On the international scene, in 1962 he portrayed an Indian doctor in The Road to Hong Kong, the seventh and last in the Bing Crosby/Bob Hope/Dorothy Lamour "Road" series.
Sellers was married four times:
In 1964, Sellers had suffered a near-fatal heart attack at the age of 39. This seriously damaged his heart and affected his health for the rest of his life. He also wore a pacemaker which caused him considerable problems.
A reunion dinner was scheduled to take place in London with Goon Show partners Spike Milligan and Harry Secombe in the latter part of July, 1980. This reunion never took place: on July 22nd Sellers suffered a massive heart attack and collapsed in his London Dorchester hotel room. He died 36 hours later in a London hospital just after midnight on July 24, 1980, at the age 54. He was survived by his fourth wife, the English actress Lynne Frederick and his three children Michael, Sarah and Victoria. Ironically, at the time of his death he was due to undergo heart surgery within the month in L.A. The only personal item in his wallet was a photo of his first wife, Anne Howe.
On the day of his heart attack, Sellers had apparently meant to sign divorce papers and write his fourth wife out of his will. This did not take place, and she subsequently inherited most of his estate. His children Michael and Sarah received only a few thousand American dollars each.
In his will, Sellers explicitly requested that Glenn Miller's song "In the Mood" be played at his funeral. The request is considered his last touch of humour: his friends knew he hated the song. His body was cremated, and he was interred at Golders Green Crematorium.
Roger Lewis wrote about the madness and bizarre behaviour of Sellers in his biography, The Life and Death of Peter Sellers (Applause Books, 1997). Lewis' biography was adapted for the HBO/BBC movie, The Life and Death of Peter Sellers (2004), with Geoffrey Rush in the title role.
In a 2005 poll to find The Comedian's Comedian, Sellers was voted among the top 20 greatest comedy acts ever by fellow comedians and comedy insiders.
Sellers' only son, Michael, died of a heart attack at age 52 during surgery on July 24, 2006, 26 years to the day after his father died of the same cause. He is survived by his second wife Alison, whom he married in 1986, and their two children.
The Romance Of The Pink Panther was a script that Peter Sellers was working on at the time of his death. He had planned to complete the film without Blake Edwards. (More information can be found in the book Peter Sellers - A Celebration)
Sellers released several comedy singles many of them produced by George Martin and released on the Parlophone record label. These include the following hits:
Peter Sellers Hit Discography is as follows: