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Peter Falk: Legendary Actor Behind Columbo

Full Name Peter Michael Falk
Born September 16, 1927 in New York City, New York, United States
Died June 23, 2011 in Beverly Hills, California at age 83
Cause of Death Complications from Alzheimer‘s disease
Occupation Actor
Years active 1956–2007
Spouse Alyce Mayo (1960–1976)
Shera Danese (1977–2011)
Children 2 daughters
Net worth $5 million
Social media Facebook,

Legendary actor Peter Falk played the iconic Lt. Columbo in the popular television series, winning 4 Emmy Awards for the role between 1973 and 1990. With his trademark disheveled appearance and incisive questioning, Falk turned Columbo into one of the most beloved TV detectives.

Early Life and Career

Peter Michael Falk was born in New York City on September 16, 1927 to Jewish parents. After a tumor at age 3 cost him his right eye, Falk had to adjust to monocular vision. He reputedly used this challenge to his advantage in acting, with his trademark sidelong glances.

After serving in WWII and graduating from college, Falk worked various jobs including as a cook and bookie. His first acting break came on Broadway in 1956, followed by early TV roles in shows like The United States Steel Hour.

His 1961 Oscar-nominated performance in Murder, Inc. brought Falk widespread fame. This paved the way for his casting as the iconic Lieutenant Columbo in 1968.

Creating the Legendary Columbo

When Peter Falk was first cast as the lead in the TV movie Prescription: Murder, neither he nor the producers could have predicted Columbo‘s enduring popularity.

As Falk recounted later, "If I knew they were going to turn it into a series I would have asked for more money." Initially a single movie, the character was so well-received that NBC commissioned Columbo as a weekly show.

Over the decades from 1968 to 2003, Falk portrayed the humble, disheveled detective in 69 episodes and TV movies. His unique mannerisms like muttering "just one more thing…" when grilling suspects became hallmarks of the character.

Falk modeled Columbo after his own quirks, saying, "What are YOU hiding? was Columbo‘s approach to life." He endeared audiences with Columbo‘s humble nature and underdog attitude as he outwitted wealthy criminals.

Peter Falk Portraying Columbo

Accolades and Acting Versatility

In addition to his four Emmy wins, Falk earned widespread praise for his versatility in films like A Woman Under the Influence, Mikey and Nicky, and The In-Laws.

He also brought humor to roles in The Great Race and The Princess Bride. Co-star Robin Wright said of Falk, "He was so sweet, funny, and just adored as an actor, as a person. He was very influential to me."

Despite being best-known as Columbo, Falk resented being typecast and preferred theatre acting. As he once quipped, "Why don‘t they give me Shakespeare or Ibsen instead of ‘Columbo‘ all the time?"

Peter Falk‘s Personal Life

Falk married his first wife, Alyce Mayo, in 1960 and adopted two daughters before divorcing in 1976. Just weeks later, he married actress Shera Danese, who remained his wife until his death.

Outside acting, Falk was an accomplished artist. He exhibited his drawings and sketches at galleries and voiced political criticisms of the Vietnam and Iraq Wars.

In his memoir Just One More Thing, Falk philosophized, "Life boils down to just a few simple questions: Who are we? Why are we here? What‘s the big deal about sin?"

As Falk battled Alzheimer‘s in his final years, tributes poured in praising his kindness, humor, and humility. He died at age 83 in 2011, leaving an enduring legacy.

Why Columbo Remains An Iconic Character

Decades after its debut, Columbo remains widely popular and is credited with pioneering the inverted detective drama format. What makes the character so iconic?

  • The persona: Columbo‘s polite demeanor hid his razor-sharp mind. Audiences loved his unique personality.
  • Top talent: Peter Falk inhabited the role fully, adding humor and humanity to his performance.
  • Inside view: Much of each episode revealed the killer‘s actions, allowing viewers to root for Columbo as the underdog.
  • Just one more thing: Falk‘s ad-libbed catchphrase epitomized Columbo catching killers in his final questions.
  • Wardrobe: The disheveled raincoat, worn shoes, and smoking cigar became part of Columbo‘s unforgettable image.

Lieutenant Columbo‘s Legacy

As one of the most beloved TV detectives and characters, Lieutenant Columbo has left a lasting legacy:

  • Ranked #7 on TV Guide‘s 2013 list of "The 60 Greatest TV Characters of All Time"
  • Pop culture references in shows like The Simpsons and South Park
  • Inspired later eccentric TV detectives like Monk and Psych‘s Shawn Spencer
  • Subject of dedicated fan clubs, websites, and museums exhibits
  • Stands as Peter Falk‘s most iconic role, defining his acting career

On screen or off, Peter Falk‘s kindness, talent, and humor left an indelible mark on audiences worldwide. As Lieutenant Columbo would inquire, his legacy leaves fans with "just one more thing" – a smile.