"Columbo" actor Peter Falk dead at 83

Fri Jun 24, 2011 6:03pm EDT
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By Bob Tourtellotte

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Peter Falk, star of the 1970s hit TV drama "Columbo," whose role as the rumpled detective of the same name earned him four Emmys, has died after years of battling Alzheimer's disease. He was 83.

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

The actor enjoyed a long and successful career, first on the stage, then in movies and on television, where he gained fame as police lieutenant Columbo, whose seeming absent-mindedness was actually a ruse to cover for his shrewd questioning of suspects and investigations.

He earned two nominations for the film industry's top honors, the Oscar, for supporting roles in 1960's "Murder, Inc." and in "Pocketful of Miracles" the following year.

Falk took hold of his first Emmy trophy in a leading role in a 1961 production of "The Dick Powell Theater," and 10 years later, in 1972, he began a string of Emmy wins that would see him claim U.S. TV's top honor four more times as Columbo.

As a child, the actor's right eye had been surgically removed due to a malignant tumor 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 disheveled, oddball crime sleuth.

The homicide cop's questions would often seem disorganized and out-of-place, but they inevitably would lead the murderer to help reveal his guilt.

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.   Continued...