Peter Falk, the stage and movie actor who became identified as the squinty, rumpled detective in “Columbo,” which spanned 30 years in prime-time television and established one of the most iconic characters in movie police work, has died. He was 83.
Falk died Thursday in his Beverly Hills home, according to a statement released Friday by family friend Larry Larson.
In a court document filed in December 2008, Falk’s daughter Catherine Falk said her father was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.
“Columbo” began its history in 1971 as part of the NBC Sunday Mystery Movie series, appearing every third week.
Falk was reportedly paid $250,000 a movie and could have made much more if he had accepted an offer to convert “Columbo” into a weekly series. He declined, reasoning that carrying a weekly detective series would be too great a burden.
Columbo — he never had a first name — presented a contrast to other TV detectives. “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. Underneath his dishevelment, a good mind is at work.”
Columbo’s trademark was an ancient raincoat Falk had once bought for himself. After 25 years on television, the coat became so tattered it had to be replaced.
Peter Michael Falk was born Sept. 16, 1927, in New York City and grew up in Ossining, N.Y., where his parents ran a clothing store. At 3 he had one eye removed because of cancer. “When something like that happens early,” he said in a Associated Press interview, “you learn to live with it. It became the joke of the neighborhood. If the umpire ruled me out on a bad call, I’d take the fake eye out and hand it to him.”
When Falk was starting as an actor in New York, an agent told him, “Of course, you won’t be able to work in movies or TV because of your eye.” Falk would later win two Oscar nominations (“Murder, Inc.,” 1960; “Pocketful of Miracles,” 1961) and collect five Emmys.
He was married to pianist Alyce Mayo in 1960; they had two daughters, Jackie and Catherine, and divorced in 1976. The following year he married actress Shera Danese. They filed for divorce twice and reconciled each time.
When not working, Falk spent time in the garage of his Beverly Hills home. He had converted it into a studio where he created charcoal drawings. He took up art in New York when he was in the Simon play and one day happened into the Art Students League.
He recalled: “I opened a door and there she was, a nude model, shoulders back, a light from above, buck-ass naked. The female body is awesome. Believe me, I signed up right away.”
Falk is survived by his wife Shera and his two daughters.