Obituary: Lynne Frederick
Tuesday 03 May 1994
ALTHOUGH she set out to be a film star and made half a dozen pictures, which cast her perhaps more for her beauty than for any exacting standards that might have been demanded by the scripts, the actress Lynne Frederick became best known as the widow of the comic genius Peter Sellers.
She was only 22 when she became the fourth Mrs Sellers, in 1977, and almost 30 years younger than her husband. He died just three years later, following a massive heart attack, his fifth in 16 years, at the age of 54. The actor left most of his pounds 4m fortune to Frederick, with only pounds 750 bequeathed to each of his three children from earlier marriages.
Both of her subsequent marriages - to the globe-trotting television interviewer David Frost and Barry Unger, a Los Angeles heart surgeon - ended in divorce and Frederick continued to hold a torch for Sellers even more than 10 years after his death. 'I was his mother, his sister, his daughter, his lover, his wife and he became for me my father, my lover, my friend,' she once said.
Born in Hillingdon, Middlesex, Frederick was brought up by her mother and grandmother in Market Harborough, Leicestershire, after her parents split up when she was two. Her mother, Iris, was an executive at Thames Television working on Hughie Green's talent show Opportunity Knocks]
Frederick went into show business herself at the age of 15, abandoning O levels to make her film debut in the director Cornel Wilde's 1970 sci-fi picture No Blade of Grass, following it with the Hammer horror production Vampire Circus (1971), Nicholas and Alexandra (1971), alongside Laurence Olivier in the story of the last Russian Tsar, and the children's ghost story The Amazing Mr Blunden (1972). She made a greater impression as Catherine Howard in Henry VIII and his Six Wives (1972), based on the popular BBC television series The Six Wives of Henry VIII, with Keith Michell repeating his small-screen role and Charlotte Rampling and Jane Asher playing other 'wives'.
The film also brought Frederick to the attention of Peter Sellers, the great comedian who had first made his name on radio in The Goon Show and later became best known as the bungling Inspector Clouseau in the 'Pink Panther' films. He courted her and, after she had made two more pictures, Schizo (1976) and Voyage of the Damned (1976), the couple were wed. In 1979, they appeared together on screen in a disastrous remake of The Prisoner of Zenda, and she filed for divorce shortly afterwards, although the couple were reunited before Sellers's death.
She also worked as a production executive on some of the actor's films and helped him to create the character of Chancy, the simple- minded gardener, in Being There (1979), one of Sellers's finest roles, to which he brought great pathos. It was his penultimate film and the last one to be released before his death. Frederick then became embroiled in a family feud as the actor's son and two daughters from his first two marriages, to the actresses Anne Howe and Britt Ekland, were left almost nothing of his pounds 4m estate.
In 1984, Frederick won more than dollars 1m in damages against the director Blake Edwards and the producers United Artists over their release of The Trail of the Pink Panther (1982), linking old Sellers footage with newly shot pieces, after claiming that it was an insult to his memory and done without her permission. Despite two more marriages, Frederick never found a husband to match up to the actor who, she said on the day after his death, 'consumed every minute of my life'.
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