‘Columbo’ star Peter Falk dead at 83

June 24, 2011

Peter Falk, the Emmy-winning actor best known as television’s Lt. Columbo, has died at the age of 83.

“Falk died peacefully at his Beverly Hills home in the evening of June 23, 2011,” the family said in a statement to ABC News.

Falk appeared for more than 40 years as the rumpled, seemingly bumbling detective, who was known for the catchphrase: “just one more thing.” “Columbo” ran from 1971 to 1978, and then as made-for-TV movies from 1989 until 2003. Falk won four Emmys for the role, which he first played in the 1968 television film “Prescription: Murder.”

“He looks like a flood victim,” Falk once said of the character, who wore a trademark raincoat and chomped a cigar. “You feel sorry for him. He appears to be seeing nothing, but he’s seeing everything. Underneath his dishevelment, a good mind is at work.”

Falk was born to an Eastern European Jewish family in New York in 1927. He wore a glass eye most of his life after losing his right eye to a tumor at the age of 3.

At the close of World War II, Falk tried to sign up for the armed services but was rejected because of his eye. Following service with the U.S. Merchant Marines, he signed up to go to Israel to fight Egypt. “I just wanted more excitement …. However, the war, to everyone’s amazement, was over in the blink of an eye,” he wrote in his 2006 autobiography, “Just One More Thing.”

In 1956, Falk left his job as a management analyst to pursue a career in acting, first on stage and then in film, most notably in 1960’s “Murder, Inc,” where his turn as Abe Reles served as a breakout role for the actor. After appearing in such television shows as “New York Confidential,” “Naked City” and “Have Gun Will Travel,” Falk starred in his own television series, “The Trials of O’Brien” (1965-1966), as Shakespeare-quoting lawyer Daniel O’Brien. 

A friend of John Cassavetes, Falk starred in the independent director’s films “Husbands” (1970) and “A Woman Under the Influence” (1974). He also made a cameo appearance in Cassavetes’ “Opening Night” (1977). Later in life, Falk acted in such films as “The Princess Bride” (1987), “Vibes” (1988), “Roommates” (1995) and “Shark Tale” (2004).

According to his daughter, Catherine Falk, the actor had been suffering from dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. During a 2009 conservatorship trial, it was revealed that Falk had slipped into dementia following a series of dental operations in 2007.

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