MR. STRANGELOVE: A Biography of Peter Sellers

Ed Sikov, Author . Hyperion $27.95 (448p) ISBN 978-0-7868-6664-9

Sellers was undoubtedly one of the 20th century's funniest people. From his first star-making turns in Lolita and Dr. Strangelove (in which he played three different characters), to the bumbling but strangely dignified Inspector Clouseau of the Pink Panther movies, Sellers never failed to send audiences rolling in the aisles. But as Sikov shows in this hip, unblinking biography, there was a downside to his genius. Sellers abused drugs, beat his wives and neglected his children. On set, he was a nightmare prima donna, insisting on special treatment and embroiling himself in ridiculous feuds with costars and directors. Moreover, his compulsive need to do impressions verged at times on multiple personality disorder (his first wife said, "It's like being married to the United Nations"). Sikov shows that no one, not even his friends, really knew Sellers. The actor was, in Sikov's estimation, a comic tabula rasa on which he could inscribe any character or personality. This mutability gave Sellers his first break, as he bluffed his way onto radio by impersonating a BBC star on the telephone. He later became the star of the hugely influential radio program The Goon Show, whose eccentric, Dadaist humor predated Monty Python by a decade. An avid party-goer (jet-setting friends included Roman Polanski and the Beatles), Sellers enjoyed a go-go lifestyle finally that caught up with him in 1980, when he suffered a massive heart attack. Sikov, whose previous work includes a Billy Wilder biography, treats Sellers with just the right mix of awe, irritation and sympathy, giving readers a clear-headed, respectful tribute to a disturbed genius. Agent, Edward Hibbert. (Oct.)

Reviewed on: 09/30/2002
Release date: 10/01/2002
Paperback - 432 pages - 978-0-330-48260-8
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