Herbert Lom, the actor who played Chief Inspector Dreyfus in the Pink Panther movies and was memorably reduced to eye-twitching madness dealing with Peter Sellers' imbecilic Inspector Clouseau, has died. He was 95.

Lom died Thursday in his sleep at his London home, said the actor's son Alec

A Czech native who immigrated to England just before the start of World War II, Lom carved out a prolific career that included a starring role as the King of Siam in the original 1953 London production of "The King and I."

He also appeared in scores of films over more than 60 years, including playing a crime-gang member in "The Ladykillers" (1955), Napoleon in "War and Peace" (1956), a pirate chieftain in "Spartacus" (1960) and the title role in the Hammer Films production of "The Phantom of the Opera" (1962).

But he was "badly typecast in British films," Lom told Australia's Daily Telegraph in 1999, "and it needed an American, Blake Edwards, to take me away from endless villainous roles and into the comedy of the Pink Panther films."

Lom's first time out as the long-suffering Charles Dreyfus was in "A Shot in the Dark," the 1964 follow-up to "The Pink Panther," writer-director Edwards' 1963 hit that introduced Sellers as Jacques Clouseau.

"I was invited to have lunch at the Dorchester with Blake Edwards," Lom told the Edinburgh Evening News in 2002. "He told me he had seen me playing heavy villains and thought I was funny.

"At first I didn't take it as a compliment. But then he explained that he did not want a comic actor who would play Dreyfus for laughs."

Lom viewed his involvement in the Pink Panther films playing "a blithering idiot named Inspector Dreyfus," as a highlight of his career.

"I loved playing the part of a blabbering lunatic of a police inspector," he said. "I think people like to see the police in such trouble; they enjoy seeing the inspector reduced to an utter, twitching wreck."

The twitch was Lom's idea.

"I had a scene with Peter in my office," he told the (London) Independent in 2004. "He said something like, 'Don't worry chief, I'll settle it,' and gave me an encouraging wink. So I started winking out of nervousness and couldn't stop."

It wasn't in the script, he said, but Edwards loved it.

"But it became a problem," Lom said. "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.'"

Born Herbert Charles Angelo Kuchacevich ze Schluderpacheru in Prague on Sept. 11, 1917, Lom attended Prague University and studied acting at the Prague School of Acting. He already had been in a couple of films before leaving Czechoslovakia for England in early 1939.

After launching his career in England and serving as a radio announcer for the BBC's Czech-language section during the war, he became a British citizen.

Lom, who had signed a seven-year-contract with 20th Century Fox in the in the early '50s, was refused an entry visa by the U.S. government, he told Australia's Daily Telegraph in 1999.

"No reason was given," he said. "It was clearly political. I was judged to be a 'fellow traveler' and a victim of the anti-Communist fever at that time in America. My political inclinations were certainly leftish, but I had never been a member of the Communist Party."

A big acting break came in 1953 when he was offered the part of the King of Siam in the West End production of Rodgers and Hammerstein's "The King and I."

He played the king for two years and received rave reviews, including one from critic Kenneth Tynan, who wrote, "The show took Drury Lane by typhoon last night and Mr. Lom is practically an act of God."

Among Lom's later credits are the 1970s horror films "Asylum," "And Now the Screaming Starts!" and "Count Dracula" (opposite Christopher Lee) and the 1983 film "The Dead Zone."

He also wrote two novels, "Enter a Spy: The Double Life of Christopher Marlowe" (1978) and "Dr. Guillotine: The Eccentric Exploits of an Early Scientist" (1992).

Besides his son Alec, Lom is survived by another son, Nicholas; a daughter, Josephine; and seven grandchildren.

dennis.mclellan@latimes.com