Peter Falk, the five-time Emmy Award-winning actor best known for his starring role on the television series Columbo has passed away at the age of 83.
His family announced that he died peacefully on Thursday night at his home in Beverly Hills, California. Falk had been suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and dementia for several years. He’s survived by his wife Shera Danese and his daughters Catherine and Jackie Falk.
Falk was born in New York City on September 16th, 1927. He made his first appearance on stage at the age of twelve in a summer camp rendition of Pirates of Penzance, but he didn’t become serious about acting until later in life. He was a star athlete at his high school in Westchester County, New York as well as class president his senior year.
After briefly attending Hamilton College, Falk attempted to join the armed services but was rejected because of his glass eye. He instead singed up with the United States Merchant Marine and served for a year and a half. Afterwards, he continued his education and moved from one school to the next – ultimately earning a bachelor’s degree in literature & political science from the New School for Social Research and a master’s degree in public administration from Syracuse University.
By Falk’s own admission, he wasn’t entirely sure what career path he wanted to follow – he only knew that he didn’t feel particularly suited to any of the options that he’d been presented with. While working as a management analyst in Hartford, Connecticut, Falk joined a community theater group called the Mark Twain Masquers and also began studying with acclaimed actress, director, and producer Eva Le Gallienne. It was Gallienne who helped convince him to become a professional actor.
In 1956, Falk quit his job, moved to Greenwich Village, and soon found work in the off-Broadway productions of Dom Juan and The Iceman Cometh. He made his Broadway debut that same year, appearing in Diary of a Scoundrel.
Falk was warned that while he’d enjoyed success on the stage, he shouldn’t expect to receive many movie roles because of his glass eye. Nevertheless, he managed to land small parts in Wind Across the Everglades (1958), The Bloody Brood (1959) and Pretty Boy Floyd (1960) – but it was his supporting performance in Murder, Inc. (1960) that wound up putting him on the map.
Falk received a Best Supporting Actor Academy Award nomination for his performance and he went on to appear in numerous films and television shows over the next decade including Have Gun – Will Travel, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The Untouchables, The Twilight Zone, Pocketful of Miracles, It’s A Mad Mad Mad Mad World, and The Great Race.
In 1968, Falk starred in the TV movie Prescription: Murder – it was his first appearance as the now-iconic Lt. Columbo. Falk was not the first actor to play the role (Bert Freed played him on an episode of Chevy Mystery Theater and Thomas Mitchell played him on Broadway), but his interpretation is now unequivocally inseparable from the character.
Columbo’s attire actually belonged to the actor, including the infamous wrinkled trench coat. Falk was responsible for infusing the character with a set of quirks and idiosyncrasies that elevated the material substantially and helped make Columbo one of the most famous and recognizable fictional detectives of all time.
After the popularity of a second TV movie, Ransom for a Dead Man (1971), NBC gave the go ahead for a television series that premiered the same year. Interestingly enough, the debut episode was directed by a 25-year-old Steven Spielberg. Columbo ran regularly as part of the NBC Mystery Movie series until 1978. In 1989, ABC began airing a new series of Columbo TV movies, which continued until 2003.
Some of Falk’s other notable film appearances include The In-Laws (1979), Wings of Desire (1987), and of course -Rob Reiner’s beloved adaptation of The Princess Bride (1987).
Screen Rant offers its condolences to the family and friends of this legendary and gifted performer.
RIP Peter Falk: September 16th, 1927 — June 23rd, 2011.
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