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‘I am desperate to have some real fun again’: Peter Sellers’ final telegram to Spike Milligan

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Peter Sellers didn’t know he was dying, he believed he was going to live until he was seventy-five. That’s what his spirit guide, the ghost of Victorian Music Hall performer, Dan Leno had told him.

Sellers was terribly superstitious, his film career had often turned on the say-so of his clairvoyant, Maurice Woodruff. By the early 1970s, Sellers believed he was similarly able to communicate with the spirit world. He also recounted to his friends how he had been various famous people in various past lives. His colleague and friend Spike Milligan, poked fun at Sellers’ beliefs, pointing out that he was always Napoleon, or Ceaser, or Leonardo da Vinci in his past life, rather than some ordinary joe.

Perhaps Sellers should have listened to Milligan, for he may not have been so credulous. He may even have uncovered that his faithful clairvoyant Woodruff was in the pay of the film studios, and his advice on starring roles was not inspired by Tarot, but rather on the size of check Woodruff received. Similarly he may found out his beloved Leno had died babbling insane, a victim of tertiary syphilis.

If Sellers had stuck more to the real world, then he may have accepted Dr. Christiaan Barnard’s offer in 1976 of open-heart surgery and the bypass that would have certainly lengthened his life. Though he attended a heart operation and photographed Barnard at work, Sellers was fearful he would die on the operating table as he had in 1964, after suffering 8 heart attacks.

Come 1980, with the failure of his third marriage to Lynne Frederick, and a grueling work schedule, Sellers was physically exhausted. As before at such times, he reached out to those people who had created some of his happiest working days: his fellow Goons, Spike Milligan and Harry Secombe.

Two months before he died, Sellers wrote to Milligan in the hope that the 3 of them would once again work together on some new comedy shows. Sadly it wasn’t to be, as hours before the 3 men were about to meet, on the 22nd of July, Sellers suffered a fatal heart attack.

PADDINGTON

28 MAY 80

MR SPIKE MILLIGAN

DEAR SPIKE I AM DESPERATE TO HAVE SOME REAL FUN AGAIN WITH YOU AND HARRY. PLEASE CAN WE GET TOGETHER AND WRITE SOME MORE GOON SHOWS? WE COULD PLACE THEM ANYWHERE I DONT WANT ANY MONEY I WILL WORK JUST FOR THE SHEER JOY OF BEING WITH YOU BOTH AGAIN AS WE WERE.

LOVE

PETER

 
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Now a classic Goon Show sketch, “What time is it, Eccles?”
 

 
Previously on Dangerous Minds

The Paranormal Peter Sellers


 
Via Letters of Note, with thanks to Tara McGinley
 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
The Paranormal Peter Sellers

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Many actors are superstitious. Some like Peter Bull kept a collection of Teddy bears to bring him good luck; others like Jack Lemmon said the words, “It’s magic time,” before filming each scene. But none were quite as obsessed with superstitions and the Occult as comedy genius, Peter Sellers.

Sellers’ introduction to the Occult came via fellow Goon, Michael Bentine, the Watford-born Peruvian, who had grown-up in a household where seances and table-turning were regularly practiced. Not long after they first met, Bentine told Sellers of his psychic abilities - how during the Second World War, when Bentine served in the Royal Air Force, he had been able to tell which of his comrades would die before a bombing mission. Bentine claimed if he saw a skull instead of his colleague’s features, then he knew this person would be killed. How often Bentine was correct in his predictions is not known. No matter, Sellers was impressed by the shock-haired comic and was soon obsessed with all things paranormal.

From then on he collected superstitions, as easily as others collect stamps. He refused to wear green or act with anyone dressed in the color. If anyone gave him something sharp, he gave them a penny. He read his horoscopes every day, to divine what he should do.

Sellers often said he had no idea who he was: “If you ask me to play myself, I will not know what to do. I do not know who or what I am.”  This was his way of renouncing any responsibility for his actions.  He claimed he found comfort and stability in consulting clairvoyants and fortune tellers, which again only underlines the fact he did know who he was - a control freak, who wanted power over his future. It was inevitable, therefore, that once under the spell of sooth-sayers and psychics, Sellers was open to fraudsters, tricksters and con-men.

The clairvoyant who had most influence over his life was Maurice Woodruff, the famed TV and newspaper astrologer, whose syndicated column reached over fifty million people at the height of his career. Woodruff received over 5,000 letters a week, asking for advice and had a Who’s Who of of celebrity clients, including Lionel Bart and Diana Dors. He also famously predicted the death of President John F. Kennedy and the end of the Vietnam War. Sellers was devoted to Woodruff, consulting him before he accepted any roles, and regularly had Tarot readings performed over the telephone. But Woodruff was heavily in debt and open to the persuasion of a little cash earner when film studios asked him to suggest film scripts for the actor.

One famous tale, recounts how Woodruff was asked to suggest the initials of director Blake Edwards as being very important to him. Unfortunately, Sellers failed to connect ‘B.E.’ with the famous director. On return to the Dorchetser Hotel, his usual residence when in London, Sellers was smitten by the sight of a beautiful, young blonde-haired woman at reception. When he enquired as to who this vision of loveliness was, he was told Britt Ekland. Sellers recalled Woodruff’s prediction and married Ekland within weeks.
 
More on the paranormal Peter Sellers plus bonus clip after the jump…
 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment