The British-born Chinese actor enjoyed a lengthy film and TV career, but his most famous role was as Peter Sellers' assistant Cato in the 'Pink Panther' movies.
British-born actor Burt Kwouk, famous for his role as manservant Cato opposite Peter Sellers’ portrayal as Inspector Clouseau in The Pink Panther movies, has died at the age of 85.
A statement from his agent given to the BBC on Tuesday revealed the news. “Beloved actor Burt Kwouk has sadly passed peacefully away May 24th,” it read. “The family will be having a private funeral but there will be a memorial at a later date.”
Soon after the news broke, tributes started arriving from the world of film and television, with the likes of Al Murray, Kathy Burke and filmmaker Duncan Jones remembering him fondly.
Burt Kwouk pictured at a charity event in London in 2009
Born in 1930 in the Cheshire town of Warrington, Kwouk lived in Shanghai with his Chinese parents until the age of 17, when he went to the United States to study. Returning to Britain because of the 1949 revolution wiping out his family’s wealth, his girlfriend at the time “nagged” him into acting, according to a 2011 interview with the Associated Press.
Eventually, he found fame in 1964 when he starred alongside the legendary comic actor Peter Sellers in A Shot In the Dark as Cato, who kept the clumsy Clouseau on his toes by launching numbers of unexpected attacks on him, which often ended up simply wrecking the inspector’s flat. It was a role he retained for seven Pink Panther movies, even after Sellers’ death in 1980 when the main role was turned over to Roger Moore and Roberto Benigni.
Kwouk also starred in three James Bond movies (Goldfinger, You Only Live Twice and the non-canonical parody effort Casino Royale in 1967), as well as in the ‘Avengers’ TV series.
Later in his life, he played Entwistle in BBC comedy favourite ‘Last of the Summer Wine’ from 2002 to 2010. He had also gained a cult following in the early noughties as one of the presenters of Channel 4’s interactive gambling show ‘Banzai’, which ran for three series from 2001.
In all, his lengthy career in both TV and film ran from the mid-1950s until very recently, his last appearance coming in 2012 special of ‘Whatever Happened to Harry Hill?’, having been an occasional cast member of the original show in the 1990s. In 2011, he was the recipient of an OBE for his services to drama in the New Year’s Honours List.
He married his girlfriend Caroline Tebbs in 1961 and they remained together until his death, having one son together.