June 25, 2011

USA: 'Columbo' star Peter Falk dies at 83

WASHINGTON, DC / USA Today / Obituary / June 25, 2011


 
By Robert Deutsch, USA TODAY

Peter Falk, the beloved Columbo star, died at his home in Beverly Hills on June 23. The actor had been suffering from dementia and Alzheimer's disease, according to his daughter, Catherine Falk. He was 83.

By Gary Strauss, USA TODAY

Falk, 83, was a five-time Emmy Award winner, four for his portrayal of the police lieutenant on episodic TV and television films from 1971 to 1993. In a ubiquitous trench coat, the absent-minded Columbo — whose first name was never revealed — was a slightly built, unassuming character who subtly hounded murderers with dogged persistence. Inevitably, he confronted suspects with the comment "just one more thing," which became part of the title for his 2006 autobiography, Just One More Thing: Stories From My Life.

Born in New York City, Peter Michael Falk was the son of a dry goods store owner and accountant. At age 3, a tumor forced the removal of Falk's right eye. Despite the handicap, he was a good athlete. In a 1997 interview with Cigar Aficionado magazine — Falk, like his Columbo, was a consistent cigar smoker — Falk recalled an argument he got into during a high school baseball game. "The umpire called me out at third base when I was sure I was safe. I got so mad I took out my glass eye, handed it to him and said, 'Try this.' I got such a laugh you wouldn't believe."

After graduating from high school, he served in the Merchant Marine. Falk eventually received a masters degree in public administration from Syracuse University and worked as a Connecticut state management analyst. He began dabbling as a stage actor, and despite early admonishments that his glass eye would limit his acting career started getting film roles in 1958.

Falk earned successive Academy Award nominations for best supporting actor for 1960's Murder, Inc. and 1961's Pocketful of Miracles. In 1962, he won an Emmy for appearing in The Price of Tomatoes, a Dick Powell Theatre drama.

He was a longtime close friend of actor, writer and director John Cassavetes and his wife, actress Gena Rowlands. Falk worked with Cassavetes in '70s movies such as Husbands and Mikey and Nicky.

Falk's 1960 marriage to fellow Syracuse University student Alyce Mayo ended in divorce in 1976. He married Shera Danese, who appeared in six Columbo movies, in 1977. His daughter Catherine Falk filed for conservatorship of his estate in December 2008, touching off a legal feud with Danese, who Falk had named legal guardian when he was first diagnosed with Alzheimer's.

© 2011 USA TODAY
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