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The Life and Death of Peter Sellers [Hardcover]

Roger Lewis
3.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)

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Book Description

14 July 2008
Sellers has long been acknowledged as one of the screen's greatest comic actors. In this gripping, classic biography, Roger Lewis draws on over three hundred interviews with Sellers's family, wives, mistresses, enemies and co-stars to show how Sellers succeeded, and why it was at such terrible cost to himself and to those whom he professed to love.
--This text refers to the Paperback edition.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 502 pages
  • Publisher: Applause Theatre Book Publishers (14 July 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 155783248X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1557832481
  • Product Dimensions: 24.7 x 16.1 x 3.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,188,137 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


"Torrential psychological biography ... a savage but satiating account" (Daily Mail)

"A fascinating, tragic and instructive story, vividly told" (Sunday Telegraph)

"An absolute revelation, the book grips from the first page to the last and is packed with the kind of facts and anecdotes that make one drool. Brilliant" (Film Review)

"It is a mad book - but then the subject is a madman. I love Lewis's passion ... I recommend it" (Sunday Times)

"Reinventing the genre as well as reassessing its subject with formidable intelligence, this book is a remarkable achievement" (Literary Review) --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

Book Description

The authoritative biography of the great British actor, comedian and singer, star of BBC radio comedy series The Goon Show alongside comedian and poet Spike Milligan, and famous as Chief Inspector Clouseau in the classic Pink Panther series. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
45 of 53 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Don't believe the dullards 4 Jan 2006
By Tony Floyd VINE VOICE
I am gobsmacked at the low rating that this book has been given. I can only suppose that dullards want dull, colourless and unchallenging books that don't upset their preconceptions or that don't say anything nasty about that terribly funny Inspector Clouseau. Well, don't believe the unhype, this one is utterly compelling, beautifully written and fascinatingly labyrinthine (this is a good thing).

Aren't you fed up of humdrum by-the-numbers biographies? The sort that just give you a dreary Gradgrindish recitation of facts: In 1963 he did this, then next year he did that and the year after he did some other things.

Lewis, who is tellingly name checked by Jonathan Coe in the acknowledgements to his superb biography of BS Johnson, Like A Fiery Elephant, is upfront about the selectivity of his biography, that it can only be one person's version of another person's life. Otherwise the danger is that the biographer (implicitly) says that this is the truth, the whole truth and the only truth.

It is obvious even from the lightweight books on Sellers, with their anecdotes about his penchant for pranks and practical jokes, his deliberate corpsing and aggravated improvisation and his obsession with cars and gadgets, that there was a very dark undertow of cruelty and disengagement in Seller's life. I think what has prompted some of the outraged comments about this book is the disparity it reveals between the onscreen characters and the offscreen man. Sellers is hardly a unique example of this phenomenon. But just because he was a comic actor it doesn't mean that in a biography all we should get is a jolly Pink Pantherish romp through his life. Sellers was clearly a fascinating and complex man with many demons and pyschological, er, issues.
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15 of 20 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars difficult but great book on complex man 14 Sep 2005
By A Customer
There have been many books about the late, great Peter Sellers over the years, but this biography takes the time and hassle to present the reader with a detailed and revealing portrait of a talented but troubled actor.
I do find the author's style of writng somewhat confusing sometimes;Roger Lewis seems to cover different incidents of Sellers's life all at the same time.
However, I can quite easily overlook that minor quibble, as the text has been so brilliantly written and researched.
Both Peter Sellers's life and films are thoroughly examined, attempting to probe into the man.
The result is a picture of a man who claimed to have no inner self or personality of his own and became immersed in the art of characterizations.
The book is quite a challenge to read, but please stick with it and enjoy a terrific biography about a terrific actor.
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13 of 19 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Hateful yet compelling 7 July 2004
"Hateful yet compelling" is the best way to sum this up - one wants to murmur, with Canon Chasuble, "Charity, my dear Miss Prism, charity" - but I'm obliged to admit it sustained me during a long and noisy train trip from Glasgow to London. Still an' all, Lewis deserves the odd smack around the head (House of Lords permitting) for his inability to resist quoting poetry or whatever else takes his fancy whenever it should strike him, and his belief that every aspect of every film is yet another of the dazzling array of clues about the psyche of this "evil" (his word) man. Spike Milligan, when quoted, shows a pity and understanding of Sellers which has been earned and which feels more convincing. Lewis acknowledges the Toadlike aspect of himself as a biographer and the inevitable subjectivity of such a task, but even so you feel you have been buttonholed by someone who, for all his indefatigable industry and knowledge, doesn't actually see things in perspective. Which is not to say I'd rather a biography written by a crony, but without an overlay of kindness this effort at his life doesn't seem to be telling a complete story. I ended up feeling very sorry for Sellers for the sustained assault, whatever the horrors of his personality.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Take with a pinch of salt 10 April 2012
It is certainly a long read, though this is overlooked if you are a Sellers fan. It explores every aspect of his life, which the author should be praised for.

However, Lewis has a raw attitude which rips Sellers apart. When reading, I found myself disappointed when at every turn Lewis would mock or criticise Sellers. Granted, in many occasions the criticism is deserved, though at one point Sellers is noted as being "evil". This seems extreme for a man struggled to connect with people and himself.

It is a very good read. Filled with Interviews, letters ect. Though, my only warning would be to have an open mind when reading, but also taking Lewis' words with a pinch of salt. There are many other books and interviews which will disagree with Lewis. After all, his opinion (which is expressed frequently) is not defiant.
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9 of 15 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars The PROLONGED Life and Death of Peter Sellers 9 Aug 2004
This book is 600 pages too long. I'm a fan of Peter Sellers (his films at any rate), but to be honest, i don't think he did enough in his career, or his life to merit this great doorstop of a biography. Especially as, in the first few pages (and many hundreds of times in the ensuing 1,000 pages), the subject himself declares: "I have no personality of my own."
And so in between stories that illustrate time and time again the man's descent into quite shocking madness, we have a complete and overdone analysis of his every role, from Goon (at the more interesting beginning of the book), through to Clouseau, through to Being There... which Roger Lewis faithfully unpicks through to the very molecules of celluloid, looking for clues.
The problem is - there was nothing intruiging about Sellers, or at least this book doesn't find it. There is no definitive insight into the way he was. To do this, I think we'd have to consult a pyschological textbook, not a biography.
Often, I find Sellers screen characters quite hollow... without life, and this book is quite hollow, too. Yet, disagreeing with other reviewers, I think that Roger Lewis is a good writer, and I think this is an interesting take on the celebrity biography - largely non-chronological, the detailed footnote minutiae, an interesting and direct turn of phrase - but ultimately, his subject matter is such a bizarre individual that perhaps someone who didn't know him, and never met him, would always be floundering.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Fine biography.
A good and intensive study of an apparently very disturbed man. Can recommend this biography although never quite reaches the fluency of really top biography (Try anything by... Read more
Published 3 months ago by andrew64
3.0 out of 5 stars Exhaustive (and exhausting!)
This is a very thorough account of the life and work of Peter Sellers. The book itself is very heavy which makes it not terribly portable and hard to hold for any length of time. Read more
Published 17 months ago by sleepyhead
2.0 out of 5 stars What a shame
What a shame that such an obviously painstakingly researched book seemed devoted to one aspect of this troubled mans life ie. Sellers wasn't very nice. Read more
Published 22 months ago by Lima
4.0 out of 5 stars ' You've got to have a heart before you can have an attack. '
So said the producer Billy Wilder on the subject of Peter Sellers (on page 906 !!).Well I can't really argue about this not being a comprehensive if totally exhausting insight into... Read more
Published on 15 Nov 2009 by The Right Reverend
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating study of a troubled comedy genius.
The Life and Death of Peter Sellers is, for me, an absorbing book detailing Sellers' life, career, insecurities, meanness and madness. Read more
Published on 9 Oct 2008 by Simon T.
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing and annoying
Despite its great length this is nowhere near a definitive biography. Incoherent, pretentious and ultimately exhausting it leaves so much unanswered.
Published on 7 April 2008 by Gary H
4.0 out of 5 stars slighlty lacking in something
i have indeed found this a very compelling book, but i have a few problems with it. first of all, it gives you no sense the developement of his career. Read more
Published on 25 Jun 2005
2.0 out of 5 stars A complete waste of meticulous research
I read the hardback edition (Century) - 817 pages long. I thoroughly enjoyed two pages - pages 712-13 on which Lewis describes Jonathan Miller's film *Alice's Adventures in... Read more
Published on 30 Jan 2005 by Arrem
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