Peter Falk, star of both TV and movies, has died in Los Angeles. He was 83.
He may forever be known for asking suspects “just one more thing…” before cracking a murder case as shabby trench coat wearing ‘tec Columbo on TV, but Falk’s career went far beyond that iconic, beloved character.
A New York City native, Falk faced an early challenge when his right eye was removed because of a tumour, resulting in him wearing a glass eye through most of his life. Despite that, he was a committed sports player in his youth, though he would gravitate towards the stage at 12, when he appeared in The Pirates of Penzance at a summer camp. After being rejected by the armed services because of his eye near the end of World War Two, Falk signed up with the US Merchant Marines, serving as a cook and a mess boy.
Following a stint at Syracuse University and a couple of other jobs, Falk began performing in community theatre, eventually moving to Off-Broadway productions and then the Great White Way itself.
Though he’d been advised not to expect much film work thanks to that pesky eye, Falk managed to crack the cinema with small roles in Wind Across the Everglades, The Bloody Brood and Pretty Boy Floyd.
But it was 1960’s Murder, Inc that proved to be the big turning point in his career, making waves in a supporting role as killer Abe Reles, which scored him his first Oscar nomination. He went on to nab a second nod the following year, for Best Supporting Actor in Pocketful of Miracles.
He began working in television even earlier, beginning with an episode of Robert Montgomery Presents in 1957 and working steadily through the late ‘50s, 60s and 70s on a variety of series including Have Gun - Will Travel, The Twilight Zone, The Untouchables, Naked City, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, Dr Kildare, Wagon Train and cropping up as himself years later in one episode of The Larry Sanders Show.
His crowning achievement on the small screen, however, has to be the schlubby Columbo, the eternally underestimated, easygoing detective who hides a razor sharp mind and powers of detection that would turn Sherlock Holmes green with envy behind a seemingly bumbling demeanour and a trademark cigar. The series ran for 13 seasons.
On the big screen, he regularly collaborated with John Cassavetes, including on Husbands, Opening Night and A Woman Under the Influence.
Other memorable roles included Wings of Desire, It’s A Mad Mad Mad Mad World, The In-Laws, Made (which allowed him to show off one of his personal passions, sketching) and, of course, his turn as the Grandfather in The Princess Bride who narrates the story.
Though Falk had been suffering from dementia and Alzheimer’s, the exact cause of his death is not yet known. His ex-wife and two daughters survive him, and our thoughts are with his family.