Peter Sellers was a very talented British film actor, comedian and singer who could create characters and copy accents so effectively that he often played several different roles in the same film. He was nominated three times for an Academy Award, and four times for Golden Globe’s best male actor award. His most famous role was that of Chief Inspector Clouseau in the five Pink Panther films. In spite of his world-wide success as an actor, he suffered from depression and insecurity, fought with his directors and co-stars, and had four miserable marriages. He was headed for his fourth divorce in 1980 when he died of heart failure at the young age of 54, brought on by a lifetime of heart-attack-provoking behaviors.
Lonely Childhood, Lively Career
His parents were actors who took him onstage when he was two weeks old. They traveled extensively, leaving him as an only child who spent most of his early years alone. He never knew who he really was. His father was Protestant and his mother was Jewish, and he attended Roman Catholic schools. He left school at age 14, never to return, because of the harsh conditions in England during World War II. He went to work in a theater and was steadily promoted from janitor to ticket seller to usher and assistant stage manager. He learned how to play the drums and played with a series of touring bands. In 1943, at age 18, he joined the Royal Air Force and toured as a drummer and comedian. He was outstanding in both roles.
In 1948, at age 23, he was hired by the BBC for occasional on-air comedy and eventually reached radio stardom as part of a comedy radio show called The Goons. In 1951 at age 26, he appeared with The Goons in their first film, Penny Points to Paradise. That was followed by Let's Go Crazy, in which Sellers played several different characters, which made him an immediate film star. He won his first Oscar nomination for Dr. Strangelove in 1965, and his second Oscar nomination for Being There in 1979.
First Marriage (1951 -1963, two children)
In 1949 he met Anne Howe, an Australian actress, and married her two years later. In 1960 he starred with Sophia Loren in the romantic comedy The Millionairess, and declared his love for her in front of his wife. Soon after that he woke his son at night to ask, "Do you think I should divorce your mummy?" According to his son, Michael, in 1962, Sellers asked him and his sister Sarah, "Whom do you love more, your mother or me?” His sister, Sarah, replied, ”I love you both equally.” Michael replied, “I love my mum." Sellers replied that he never wanted to see either of them again, and soon after, he divorced his wife.
Second Marriage (1964 – 1968, one child)
In 1964, at age 39, he met Swedish actress, Britt Ekland, and he married her ten days later. Their entire marriage was fraught with his constant accusations that she was cheating on him with other men. He became so paranoid about this that he argued constantly with almost everyone. While working on the movie Kiss Me, Stupid Sellers had a major argument with the director of the picture, Billy Wilder. That night, April 5, 1964, he suffered what he called “a series of eight heart attacks over the course of three hours” after taking amyl nitrate, a sexual stimulant. He said, “When a 38-year-old bloke marries a 21-year-old bird, he needs all the help he can get.” After his heart attacks, he had to quit filming for a while. Wilder was disgusted with him and stated publicly that, "You have to have a heart before you can have a heart attack".
During that period Sellers claimed to have had affairs with Princess Margaret and Sophia Loren. In 1965, Sellers and Ekland had a daughter. Soon afterward, both appeared in After the Fox. During its production he argued with several people on the set and threw a chair at his wife. The day before he was to be appointed a CBE (Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) at Buckingham Palace, Ekland scratched his face and he had to cover the marks with makeup. In their next film together, he told the director Robert Parrish, "I'm not coming back after lunch if that bitch is on the set." She filed for a divorce which was granted in 1968.
Third Marriage: (1970 – 1974)
In 1970, he married Miranda Quarry, an Australian fashion model who was 23 years younger than him. In 1973, while still married to Miranda, he went to see a performance by Liza Minnelli who, at that time, was engaged to Desi Arnaz, Jr. Three days later they announced that they were getting married. One month later, they broke up. At that time, Sellers's friends were concerned that he was having a nervous breakdown. Sellers and Quarry divorced in 1974.
Fourth Marriage (18 February 1977 – 24 July 1980)
In 1977, he met Lynne Frederick, a 22-year-old actress, at a party. She was 30 years younger than him and he told friends, “She's dynamite in bed.” Twenty-one days later, they started a hostile, verbally and physically-abusive, alcohol- and cocaine-dependent relationship that they called a marriage. One month later, he suffered a second major heart attack and was subsequently fitted with a pacemaker. During the filming of Revenge of the Pink Panther his co-stars considered Sellers to be a nut. He and Lynne Frederick starred in several films together after that, but appeared to be hostile to each other and had long separations.
At that time, he was a hypochondriac who always had a cold and was constantly taking non-prescription remedies such as Benylin, Lemsip, Night Nurse, Day Nurse and Anbesol. His biographer stated that when instructions said three times a day, he'd take it three times an hour.
In March 1980, Sellers asked his fifteen-year-old daughter Victoria what she thought about his film Being There. She replied that he looked like a little fat old man. He got angry, threw his drink at her and told her to take the next plane home. He sent his other daughter, Sarah, a telegram reading "After what happened this morning with Victoria, I shall be happy if I never hear from you again. I won't tell you what I think of you. It must be obvious. Goodbye, Your Father."
More Heart Attacks and Death
In April, 1980, while filming commercials for Barclays Bank in Dublin, Ireland, he had another heart attack. Two days later and against medical advice, he went to the Cannes Film Festival. In July 1980 he checked into the Dorchester Hotel, ate lunch in his hotel suite, suffered another heart attack and was taken to the Middlesex Hospital in London, where he died. He was 54 years old. As he was still married to Lynne Frederick, she inherited most of his money and she refused to share any of the money with his children.
He Broke All the Heart Attack Prevention Rules
Sellers had his first heart attack at the extremely young age of 39. He should have learned that he had to change his risky behaviors, but he didn’t. He continued to:
• use cocaine, a common cause of heart attacks.
• drink large amounts of alcohol. Alcohol is a major risk factor for heart attacks and cancers.
• use amyl nitrate. It is supposed to heighten sexual excitement, but it can cause heart failure and death. Repeated use of amyl nitrate can cause loss of memory, mental disturbances and hallucinations. Combining amyl nitrate with Viagra can cause a severe drop in blood pressure, to bring on a stroke or heart attack.
• eat a diet loaded with fried foods, red meat, sugared drinks and sugar-added foods, and low in fruits and vegetables,
• not exercise
• gain too much weight. Obesity is associated with high rises in blood sugar and full fat cells that are frequent causes of diabetes and heart attacks.
• enjoy promiscuous sex from which he must have picked up all sorts of infections because the people with the most sexual partners virtually always carry the most germs. Any chronic infection turns on your immunity, which causes inflammation that is now thought to be a principal cause of heart attacks, strokes and other blood vessel diseases.
• act strangely. People who are angry all the time are at increased risk for heart attacks, as are those who are argumentative, depressed or anxious.
• be under constant stress. Heart attack risk is increased by emotional trauma such as going through a divorce or separation, which he did over and over again.
September 8, 1925 – July 24, 1980