Herbert Lom, who played the twitching, exasperated Parisian police inspector driven to the edge of madness and beyond by Peter Sellers’s Jacques Clouseau in the “Pink Panther” movie franchise, has died. He was 95.
He died today in his sleep, the Associated Press reported, citing his son, Alec. The Czech-born Lom lived in London, where he moved from Prague on the eve of World War II.
Sellers, Lom and writer-director Blake Edwards teamed up for five of the “Pink Panther” comedies, which followed Sellers’s cheerily bumbling Clouseau on a search for a missing diamond.
Lom’s character, Chief Inspector Charles Dreyfus, had the thankless task of overseeing Clouseau’s inept investigations. Dreyfus ends one movie strait-jacketed in a sanitarium, using his toes to scratch “Kill Clouseau” in crayon on the wall of his cell. In the next movie, “The Pink Panther Strikes Again” (1976), his character suffers a complete breakdown and emerges as a super-villain.
Sellers and Lom, two comic actors with the talent to pull off slapstick farce, made “a hilarious team,” critic Vincent Canby wrote in the New York Times in his review of the 1976 movie, which was nominated for a Golden Globe award for best comedy.
Lom made more than 100 feature films and long expressed mixed feelings about being primarily remembered for his “Pink Panther” affiliation.
“I miss the Panther,” Lom said in a 1986 interview with the Sunday Mail, a U.K. newspaper. “It was great fun. They asked me to play Dreyfus because I’m a serious actor. I did it straight, and I know being associated with crazy comedy has cost me lots of other parts.”
Lom wrote a 1993 novel, “Dr. Guillotine,” a fictional account based on the real-life physician-lawmaker whose work on a more efficient method of execution during the French Revolution earned him a place in the dictionary.
For 25 years Lom owned a Christmas tree farm in Kent, southeast of London, according to the Sunday Mail.
Herbert Charles Angelo Kuchacevich ze Schluderpacheru was born on Sept. 11, 1917, in Prague to what he later called an “aristocratic but not wealthy” family.
He made his debut in Czech films in the mid-1930s. In search of better acting opportunities, he moved to London in early 1939, just months before Nazi troops invaded Prague.
His girlfriend, Didi, a Czech Jew, accompanied him but was turned back at Dover because she didn’t have the correct papers. She ended up perishing in the Holocaust. Lom’s parents survived to join him in England, even though his mother had Jewish ancestry.
In wartime London, Lom joined the BBC as an announcer for its Czech and German service. On screen, he landed roles including that of Napoleon Bonaparte in “The Young Mr. Pitt” (1942) -- he’d play Napoleon again in the 1956 film “War and Peace” -- and the starring role of twin trapeze artists in “Dual Alibi” (1946).
Though he would make his name in Pink Panther comedies, Lom early on played a series of sinister film characters -- a confidence man in “Beautiful Stranger” (1954), a disturbed gangster in “The Ladykillers” (1955).
“In those days, to English eyes, all foreigners were villains,” Lom, who became a British citizen but kept his Czech accent, explained in 1986.
The American songwriting duo of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein invited Lom to audition for the London production of “The King and I” in the role of the King of Siam, which Yul Brynner was playing on Broadway. Lom performed the role to strong reviews from 1953 to 1955.
His return to movies in “The Ladykillers” paired him for the first time with Sellers, the zany comedian who several years later introduced Inspector Clouseau in “The Pink Panther” (1963).
The swiftly produced “Panther” sequel, “A Shot in the Dark” (1964), added Lom as Dreyfus.
Lom said a wink from Sellers, in character as Clouseau, gave him the idea to add the twitch that became a Dreyfus trademark.
“I started winking out of nervousness and couldn’t stop,” he told the Independent, a U.K. newspaper, in 2004. “It wasn’t in the script, but Blake Edwards loved it.”
Sellers and Dreyfus teamed up for three more sequels -- “The Return of the Pink Panther” (1975), “The Pink Panther Strikes Again” (1976) and “Revenge of the Pink Panther” (1978).
After Sellers died of heart failure in 1980, the franchise continued, with Lom reprising his role three more times.
“Trail of the Pink Panther” (1982) used previously deleted footage of Sellers as Clouseau from the previous movies. “Curse of the Pink Panther” (1983) revolved around the disappearance of Clouseau, and “Son of the Pink Panther” (1993) paired Lom’s Dreyfus with Clouseau’s illegitimate son, played by Roberto Benigni.
The “Panther” franchise extended beyond Lom’s involvement as well. Steve Martin played Clouseau and Kevin Kline played Lom’s role, Dreyfus, in the 2006 remake, “The Pink Panther.”
In 2004, still acting at 87, Lom appeared on U.K. television as a grudge-bearing French professor in Agatha Christie’s “Marple,” the Independent reported.
Lom was married three times and had three children and seven grandchildren, according to the Independent.