(A.Fallon – The Guardian, 25/06/11) – Peter Falk, the American actor famous for his role in the TV detective series Columbo, has died at the age of 83.
Falk died peacefully at his Beverly Hills home on Thursday evening, said a family friend, Larry Larson. Falk had reportedly been suffering from dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
Perhaps one of US television’s most popular detectives, Falk won four Emmys for his starring role in Columbo, which ran from 1971 until 2003, and one for his role in the TV drama The Price of Tomatoes. He received Oscar nominations for Murder, Inc, his breakthrough film role, in 1960, and the comedy-drama Pocketful of Miracles, a year later. Falk also starred in the films The Princess Bride, It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World; Robin and the Seven Hoods, The Great Race, and The Cheap Detective.
Born in New York in 1927 to a shop owner, the actor began his career on the stage and appeared in community theatre and Broadway productions before moving to Hollywood.
His Broadway debut was in Diary of a Scoundrel in 1956.
Columbo began screening as part of the NBC Sunday Mystery Movie series during the 1970s. The character became identified with his shabby raincoat and his killer catchphrase: “One more thing …”
As a child, Falk’s right eye was surgically removed because of a tumour, and was replaced with a glass eye. When starting his career in New York, an agent told the star: “Of course, you won’t be able to work in movies or TV, because of your eye.” And after failing a screen test at Columbia Pictures, Falk was told by studio boss Harry Cohn that “for the same price I can get an actor with two eyes”.
But Falk’s handicap became Columbo’s trademark and enhanced the detective’s image as a dishevelled and oddball crime sleuth.
Falk once likened his famous character’s untidy appearance to a “flood victim”. “You feel sorry for him,” he said. “He appears to be seeing nothing, but he’s seeing everything. Underneath his dishevelment, a good mind is at work.”
On another occasion he described him as “an ass-backwards Sherlock Holmes”.
Falk last appeared in the feature film American Cowslip in 2009.
He married pianist Alyce Mayo in 1960, and they had two daughters, Jackie and Catherine, but divorced in 1976. A year later he wed actress Shera Danese. They filed for divorce twice, but were reconciled each time. At one stage a court battle took place between Catherine and Shera. Catherine later abandoned an attempt to obtain control of his estate from her stepmother. According to a 2008 court document, Catherine said her father was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.
Falk is survived by Shera, Catherine and Jackie.