US star of 'Columbo' TV series dies
Peter Falk, best known for his role as television's dishevelled police detective, dies aged 83.
Last Modified: 25 Jun 2011 05:19

Falk won four Emmys for his dishevelled and eccentric role as a detective in the hit TV show Columbo [GALLO/GETTY]

Peter Falk, star of the 1970s hit US television police detective drama "Columbo", has died at the age of 83 after years of battling Alzheimer's disease.

Falk passed away peacefully at his Beverly Hills home on Wednesday evening, according to a statement issued by his wife's attorney.

The actor had a wide-ranging career in comedy and drama, first in theatre, then in movies and later on television. He gained fame as the police lieutenant Columbo, whose absent-mindedness was actually a ruse to cover his shrewd questioning of suspects and investigations.

As a child, the actor's right eye had been surgically removed due to a malignant tumour and was replaced with a glass eye. That handicap became, perhaps, one of Falk's major assets in his "Columbo" role, as the physical trademark enhanced the detective's image as a dishevelled and eccentric crime sleuth.

As a fictional lieutenant in the Los Angeles police department, Columbo was a comic variation of the traditional detective. In each episode, Columbo would string his suspects along with questioning and flattery, just before nailing them with the final signature phrase: "Just one more thing..."

It was also the title of his memoir, published in 2006, that documented the appeal of the show.

Falk earned an Oscar, for supporting roles in the 1960's "Murder Inc" and in "Pocketful of Miracles" the following year. He also won his first Emmy award in a leading role in a 1961 production of "The Dick Powell Theatre", and 10 years later in 1972 he began a string of four Emmy wins that would see him claim US television's top honour four more times as Columbo.

The show became a smash hit after its prime-time debut on NBC in 1971 and continued on television for many years, even spawning several TV movies later in the actor's life.

Love of acting

Born in Manhattan on September 16, 1927, Falk was the son of a store owner. He began acting as a child in school and later joined the US Merchant Marine because his glass eye made him ineligible for military service.

He left the Merchant Marine after a more than a year and returned to school, eventually receiving a master's degree in public administration from Syracuse University in 1953.

But his love of acting took him to community theatre. From there he moved to off-Broadway productions and eventually the Great White Way. In 1956, he made his Broadway debut in "Diary of a Scoundrel" and thus began a string of stage roles that eventually sent him to Hollywood, aiming for a movie career.

In "Murder, Inc" he was singled out for his sheer ability to look more sinister than his peers as a member of a gang of killers. Yet as Columbo, he was able to turn his slightly menacing look by delivering comic punch lines and conveying the outward appearance of a bumbling detective.

After "Columbo", Falk enjoyed numerous TV and film roles, continuing to working up until 2009.

In late 2008, his daughter Catherine Falk filed court papers seeking to be put in charge of his business and personal affairs because, Catherine revealed, he was suffering from Alzheimer's and dementia.

Falk was under 24-hour care for several years.

The actor is survived by his wife of three decades, Shera, and his daughters from a previous marriage Catherine and Jackie.

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