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Herbert Lom, chief inspector in Pink Panther movies, dies at 95

Everett Collection

Herbert Lom, left, and Peter Sellers in "The Pink Panther Strikes Again."

LONDON -- Czech-born film star Herbert Lom, best known as the deranged Chief Inspector Charles Dreyfus in the "Pink Panther" comedies, has died, according to British media. He was 95.

His agent was not immediately able to confirm the reports that Lom died peacefully in his sleep on Thursday. They did not specify where, but he had been based in London.

Born into a poor aristocratic family in Prague in 1917, he shortened his complicated name to Lom and appeared in a handful of locally made movies before emigrating to Britain before the outbreak of World War Two and making his home there.

There he built a career that spanned over 100 films and included more than its fair share of villains.

"In English eyes all foreigners are sinister," he was quoted as saying resignedly in 1991.

He portrayed Napoleon Bonaparte twice, including in "War and Peace" in 1956 alongside Henry Fonda and Audrey Hepburn, and the King of Siam in the first London production of the stage musical "The King and I" in 1953.

Two years later he collaborated with Peter Sellers in the dark comedy "The Ladykillers", and they would work together again in the 1960s and 1970s on the Pink Panther series.

In them Lom played the increasingly crazed Dreyfus alongside Sellers' hapless Inspector Clouseau, and the success of his character owed much to Lom's own improvisations.

In an interview with the Independent newspaper in 2004, Lom recalled that it was him who invented Dreyfus's nervous twitch that became his trademark gesture.

"I started winking out of nervousness, and couldn't stop," he said. "It wasn't in the script but (director) Blake Edwards 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 also wrote two novels, "Enter A Spy" published in 1971 and "Dr Guillotine" in 1993. (Reporting by Mike Collett-White, editing by Paul Casciato.