Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Peter the Great

Peter Sellers has been dead for almost 30 years, and I'm still not over it.

First, I don't cry when people die. I just don't. Even after my own father passed away, in 1996 from a heart attack, I only broke down once.

I'm not saying that to be boastful or even proud. Just the way I am.

So I certainly never cried after Sellers, the great comedic actor, died from heart disease in 1980.

But I'm still not over it.

Sellers was, simply, the funniest man in the world. Don't even argue with me about this. His work in the Pink Panther movie franchise, plus all the good stuff beforehand, in the 1960s, was nothing short of genius.

Sellers, as Inspector Clouseau, was one of the most unusually funny characters in cinematic history.

At once lucky, stupid, foolish, intuitive, and heroic, Sellers' Clouseau was so funny that you couldn't keep up with the laughs. At least I couldn't.

I love Steve Martin to death, and I think he's contributed mightily to the well-being of American cinema. But I'd like to shake him and ask him why he's donning the trenchcoat and making Inspector Clouseau knock-offs. He's made two of them, which is two too many.

My friend Bob Zahari likes to laud a Sellers movie called The Party, in which Sellers wrangles an invite to a Hollywood-type party and soon proves why he should be as far away from it as possible.

Bob's right; The Party is another great Sellers performance.

In the UK, Sellers teamed with other funny people like Spike Milligan and Peter Cook, and even Dudley Moore at times. They played comedy concerts and wrote together and made movies together and ran around like a funny British version of The Rat Pack.

But Sellers was the best, and the funniest of them all.



I think Sellers' death hit me hard because, at age 17, I was just beginning to appreciate film comedy, beyond what The Three Stooges and The Little Rascals were offering me.

I had just discovered Clouseau and other Sellers vehicles, was only a few years into enjoying them, when Sellers dropped dead. He was only 54.

Turns out that, as I found out more about Sellers, he had a bad heart, and had it for quite some time. He suffered heart attacks before -- 13 of them within several weeks in 1964, which damaged his heart for life.

His big break in the U.S. came when he starred in Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.

Sellers, as with many funny people who perform, didn't lead a very funny life.

He was married four times between 1951 and his 1980 death. His highest profile marriage was his four-year one to actress Britt Ekland. He fathered three kids.

He served the British in World War II as an airman in the Royal Air Force. They say he turned to performing comedy as a distraction from the rigors of the war.

Sellers often clashed with other actors and directors, including a love/hate relationship with his friend Blake Edwards, who directed the Pink Panther films.

He admitted to having had an affair while married to his first wife, suggesting that it was with actress Sophia Loren.

"I'm not easy to live with," Sellers once admitted about his multiple marriages.

He suffered from depression, used drugs, and drank.

Pretty funny, eh?

I find it interesting that some of our funniest performers are also some of the most troubled. Maybe they use their comedy and gift of making people laugh as a way to forget about their own lives. Not sure.

Here's a clip of Sellers in one of his funniest Pink Panther moments, which is the most hilarious scene you'll ever see in a movie that involves gymnastic equipment:



Perhaps Sellers summed himself up the best.

"If you ask me to play myself," he once said, "I will not know what to do. I do not know who or what I am."

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