LOS ANGELES — 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 TV police characters, has died. He was 83.
Mr. Falk died Thursday (June 23, 2011) in his Beverly Hills home, according to a statement released Friday by family friend Larry Larson. In a court document filed in December 2008, Mr. Falk's daughter Catherine Falk said her father was suffering from Alzheimer's disease.
Columbo began in 1971 as part of the NBC Sunday Mystery Movie series, appearing every third week.
Mr. 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," Mr. 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."
NBC canceled the series in 1977. In 1989 ABC offered Columbo in a two-hour format, usually appearing once or twice a season. The movies continued into the 21st century.
Columbo's trademark was an ancient raincoat that Mr. Falk had once bought for himself.
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 1963 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 Mr. 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." Mr. Falk would later win two Oscar nominations (Murder, Inc., 1960; Pocketful of Miracles, 1961) and collect five Emmys.
In the '80s, Mr. Falk introduced himself to a new generation of fans by playing the lovable grandfather and narrator in 1987's The Princess Bride.
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 actor Shera Danese. They filed for divorce twice and reconciled each time.
Mr. Falk is survived by his wife, Shera, and his two daughters.