LONDON (AP) — Herbert Lom, the durable Czech-born actor best known as Inspector Clouseau’s long-suffering boss in the comic “Pink Panther” movies, died Thursday, his son said. He was 95.
Alec Lom said his father died peacefully in his sleep at home in London.
Herbert Lom’s handsomely lugubrious look and rich, resonant voice were suited to comedy, horror and everything in between. It served him well over a six-decade career in which roles ranged from Napoleon Bonaparte — whom he played twice — to the Phantom of the Opera.
The London-based star appeared in more than 100 films, including “Spartacus” and “El Cid,” acted alongside film greats including Charlton Heston and Kirk Douglas, and worked for directors from Stanley Kubrick to David Cronenberg.
But Lom was most famous for playing Charles Dreyfus, the increasingly unhinged boss to Peter Sellers’ befuddled detective Clouseau in the popular “Pink Panther” series. The two actors starred together from “A Shot in the Dark” in 1964 until Sellers’ death in 1980, and Lom continued in the series until “Son of the Pink Panther” in 1993.
Alec Lom said his father was forever grateful to director Blake Edwards for offering him a comic role after years of being cast as “the suave Eastern Bloc gangster with the dark looks.”
“It was a new lease of life as an actor, one he embraced warmly,” Alec Lom said.
“He had many funny stories about the antics that he and Peter Sellers got up to on the set. It was a nightmare working with Peter because he was a terrible giggler and, between my father and Peter’s laughter, they ruined dozens and dozens of takes.”
Born Herbert Karel Angelo Kuchacevic ze Schluderpacheru in Prague in 1917, Lom came to Britain just before World War II and began his career as a radio announcer with the BBC’s Czech-language service.
Adopting the shortest stage name he could think of, Lom had his first major movie role as Napoleon in 1942′s “The Young Mr. Pitt.”
He played a psychiatrist counseling a traumatized pianist in “The Seventh Veil,” a big box-office hit in 1945, and had roles opposite Richard Widmark, in the moody “Night and the City” (1950), Henry Fonda in “War and Peace” — Lom was Napoleon again — and a pre-James Bond Sean Connery in truck-driving thriller “Hell Drivers” (1957).
In the comedy “The Ladykillers” (1955), one of the best-loved British films of the 1950s, Lom played a member of a ruthless crime gang fatally outsmarted by a mild-mannered old lady.
Horror roles included the title character in Hammer Studios’ “The Phantom of the Opera” in 1962, and Van Helsing in 1970′s “Count Dracula,” opposite Christopher Lee.
A postwar American career was stymied when Lom was denied a visa — he suspected because of his left-wing views — though he later appeared on U.S. TV series including “The Streets Of San Francisco” and “Hawaii Five-O.”
In the 1950s, Lom also had stage success playing the King of Siam in the original London production of the “The King And I” at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, opposite Valerie Hobson.
Lom is survived by his sons Nicholas and Alec, and his daughter Josephine — named after Napoleon’s wife.