Actor and writer Peter Falk, best known for playing dishevelled but persistent detective Lieutenant Columbo, has died at home in Beverly Hills aged 83.
No further details have been released but his adopted daughter Catherine Falk reported that he had been suffering from worsening dementia and Alzheimer’s.
The Oscar-nominated and Emmy-winning actor began his career in the late 1950s and first played Columbo in Prescription: Murder, a TV movie in 1968 by Richard Levinson and William Link. Levinson later reported that: “Peter didn’t tumble to the character at first. He was playing a straight cop. When he realised the possibilities and starting playing them, he went way past our expectations.”
Falk himself said that the character always appeared looking “like a flood victim”. He said: “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.”
Peter Falk was not the first choice to play him – the role had been offered to Bing Crosby – and the show was meant to be a one-off. But in 1971 a second film was made.
Columbo never aired as a regular weekly series: after these two TV movies, it was always shown as a feature-length drama shown in rotation with other detective films such as McMillan and Wife. The first Columbo to be shown this way was directed by Steven Spielberg and written by Steven Bochco, later to create Hill Street Blues.
Besides Columbo, Peter Falk is best known for playing the grandfather in William Goldman’s The Princess Bride. His last role was in the 2009 film American Cowslip.
He’s survived by his wife Shera and adopted daughters Catherine and Jackie.