Herbert Lom, Clouseau-Hating ‘Pink Panther’ Actor, Dies at 95

Nobody slow-burned better than Herbert Lom

Nobody slow-burned better than Herbert Lom.

The Czech-born character died Thursday at the age of 95, the Associated Press reports. His son Alec Lom said he died in his sleep.

In seven "Pink Panther" films, Lom was able to find fresh ways to go berserk over Inspector Clouseau's cluelessness. Nearly every scene he performed opposite star Peter Sellers became a comic ballet of rage, as his character Chief Inspector Dreyfus gradually lost his cool and eventually his grasp on sanity while dealing with Clousau's incompetence.

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It was Lom who developed the character's spastic eye movements — a signal to the audience that he was about to boil over.

"I had a scene with Peter in my office," Lom remembered in a 2004 interview with The Independent. "He said something like, 'Don't worry chief, I'll settle it,' and gave me an encouraging wink. So I started winking out of nervousness, and couldn't stop. It wasn't in the script but Blake Edwards [the director] loved it. But it became a problem. I made those films for 20 years, and after 10 years they ran out of good scripts. They used to say to me, 'Herbert, wink here, wink.' And I said, 'I'm not going to wink. You write a good scene and I won't have to wink.'"

He would first play the role in the second "Panther" film,  “A Shot in the Dark” (1964), with his final turn as Dreyfus coming opposite Roberto Benigni, stepping in for the deceased Sellers, in the doleful "Son of the Pink Panther"(1993).

But Lom's distinguished career extended beyond the comic franchise. He also etched memorable turns as both romantic leads and villains in everything from epics to horror films.

He played Napoleon Bonaparte on two separate occasions, once in "The Young Mr. Pitt" (1942), and a second time in a big budget adaptation of "War and Peace" (1956). Indeed, historical dramas proved a strength of Lom's, and his credits include two of the finest examples of the genre, 1960's "Spartacus" and 1961's "El Cid."

Although the "Pink Panther" series was their most fruitful collaboration, Lom also appeared with Sellers in the black comedy classic, "The Ladykillers." In the 1955 film, Lom played a vicious gangster, who along with other members of a criminal gang tries to knock off an eccentric landlady when she interferes with their plans for a heist. 

In addition to his work on the big screen, Lom originated the role of the King of Siam in the London production of the Rodgers and Hammerstein's musical, "The King and I."