Actor. Born Peter Michael Falk on September 16, 1927, in New York City. While he had many roles on stage and on the big screen, Peter Falk is probably best remembered for his portrayal of Lieutenant Columbo on television. He played the rumpled and quirky detective for more than 30 years in numerous television movies.
Growing up in Ossining, New York, Falk lost his right eye to cancer at the age of three. He wore a glass eye in its place, which gave him his trademark squint. After high school and a brief stay at college, Falk became a merchant marine, working as a cook. He later went back to school, eventually earning a master’s degree from Syracuse University in public administration.
Falk discovered acting in his twenties while working in Hartford. At the age of 29, he abandoned public service for the stage. Falk moved to New York City and made his off-Broadway debut in 1956 in a production of Don Juan. In 1958, he made the leap to film, appearing in the drama Wind Across the Everglades with Christopher Plummer and Gypsy Rose Lee. Falk soon became a notable character actor, often playing shady criminals. For Murder Inc. (1960), he picked up an Academy Award nomination for his portrayal of notorious thug Abe “Kid Twist” Reles. Falk received another Best Supporting Actor nod the following year for Pocketful of Miracles for his comic turn as a mobster.
In 1967, Falk won his most famous part after Bing Crosby turned down the role. He first appeared as Lieutenant Columbo in the 1968 television movie Prescription: Murder. In 1971, Columbo became a regular feature on the NBC Sunday Mystery Movie. Falk received four Emmy Awards for his work on the television movies. With his disheveled appearance and tattered trenchcoat, Columbo came across as the perennial underdog. “He looks like a flood victim,” Falk once said. “You feel sorry for him. He appears to be seeing nothing, but he’s seeing everything.”
In addition to Columbo, Falk enjoyed some success on the stage and in film. He starred on Broadway in Neil Simon’s The Prisoner of Second Avenue in 1971. Working with director John Cassavetes, Falk played Gina Rowland’s husband in the critically acclaimed A Woman Under the Influence (1976). He also appeared in several popular comedies, including Murder by Death (1977) and The In-Laws in 1981.
Falk continued to work over the next two decades, often in small supporting roles. He made his last appearance as Columbo in a 2003 television movie. In recent years, Falk’s health began to decline. He suffered from dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. On the night of June 23, 2011, Falk died peacefully at his Beverly Hills home, according to a statement from his family. No cause of death was released. He was 83 years old.
Actor Peter Falk, best known as television detective Lt. Columbo, died yesterday in Beverly Hills at the age of 83. A cause of death was not released, but the actor had Alzheimer’s disease and dementia that worsened in 2007, after he had a series of dental surgeries. A statement released by his family said that Falk died peacefully at his home on the evening of June 23.
Falk is survived by his wife Shera and his two daughters.