Herbert Lom, the versatile Czech-born actor who could play Napoleon Bonaparte or a witch hunter with equal aplomb but who was perhaps best known as Peter Sellers' frustrated boss in the "Pink Panther" franchise, died Thursday at his home in London. He was 95.
His son Alec confirmed his death, The Associated Press reported.
Lom gained more attention as a reliable character actor than as a suave leading man, although he was both. His deep-set, mesmerizing eyes made him the perfect villain in a series of minor films in the early 1940s, and he went on to excel after World War II and in the 1950s and '60s in small roles in a variety of genres. In a career of more than five decades he appeared in more than 100 movies and television shows.
He was born Herbert Charles Angelo Kuchacevich ze Schluderpacheru in 1917 to upper-class parents in Prague. (Various sources give his date of birth as Jan. 9 and Sept. 11.) He became a theater actor and made one movie in his native Czechoslovakia before emigrating to London in 1939, just before the Nazis invaded (and shedding more than 40 letters from his name along the way). His parents survived and later joined him in London, but his girlfriend died in a concentration camp.
He began his English-speaking acting career at the Old Vic and other stage companies before landing some impressive film roles, thanks to an appealingly exotic accent and a sultry gaze. From the outset he was able to avoid being typecast as the lecherous but irresistible villain, unlike many other European actors who went to Hollywood in the 1940s.
Lom's first major Hollywood successes were "The Seventh Veil" (1945), in which he played a psychiatrist treating the suicidal young cousin of a crippled musician played by James Mason, and Jules Dassin's noir masterpiece "Night and the City" (1950), in which he played a chilling but remorseful gangster.
But he flourished in comedy as well -- notably alongside Sellers and Alec Guiness in "The Ladykillers" (1955) and later as the twitchy, long-suffering Chief Inspector Dreyfus, who is eventually driven insane by Sellers' bumbling Inspector Clouseau. He played Dreyfus in seven "Pink Panther" movies, from "A Shot in the Dark" (1964) to "Son of the Pink Panther" (1993), which was made 13 years after Sellers' death and starred Roberto Benigni as Clouseau's son. Lom also wrote two historical novels, "Enter a Spy: The Double Life of Christopher Marlowe" and "Dr. Guillotine: The Eccentric Exploits of an Early Scientist," set during the French Revolution, which was optioned as a movie but never made.
Lom was married and divorced three times.