Peter Falk, TV's Columbo, Dead at 83

Very sadly, there won’t be “one more thing” for Columbo fans. Peter Falk died on Thursday night at his home in Beverly Hills, following a battle with Alzheimer’s. He was 83.

Falk created one of TV’s most iconic personalities in Lt. Columbo, a disheveled-looking and rambling homicide detective who’d arrive at a crime scene clad in a trench coat and full of questions — many of them quietly revelatory — and leave with his prime suspect shaking in their shoes. Since viewers almost always saw who committed the crime in the cold open, the series was  described as a “howcatchem” versus a “whodunnit.” The role would net Falk 10 Emmy nominations, with him actually grabbing gold four times.

Falk first played Columbo — his first name has been up for debate; Falk claimed it was Phillip, though some props indicated it as Frank — in a 1960 episode of the anthology series The Chevy Mystery Show, before becoming a part of the NBC Sunday Mystery Movie series, where the L.A. detective rotated every third week with McCloud and McMillan and Wife.

A decade after NBC canceled the Sunday Mystery, ABC started producing Columbo TV-movies once or twice a year. The last of the bunch, Columbo Likes the Night Life, aired in 2003. After that, Falk and ABC went back and forth on how to continue the serial, with the network angling to amp up the titillation factor. Specifically, ABC wanted to set Columbo’s next case in the world of lingerie models, while Falk unsuccessfully pitched his own, less prurient concept. “The script that I like, the network doesn’t like. The script that they like, I don’t like,” the actor lamented to me during a 2005 film junket for The Thing About My Folks (in which he played dad to Paul Reiser).

Before ABC and Falk could find a happy medium, the actor fell prey to dementia, which only progressed in the years until his passing. Nonetheless, Falk had crafted an iconic crimesolver, one whose trademark tactics can be spied in modern-day TV detectives such as The Closer‘s Brenda Johnson.

At the time I interviewed Falk, I asked if he was ever wooed to guest-star on a TV series, much the way his contemporaries Doris Roberts and Betty White do now. “If I saw the part and it was really funny and it would be a lot of fun to do, I’d do it,” he said. “But so far, I haven’t seen anything.”

Of course, Falk also created many memorable film characters, including the cuddly narrator of The Princess Bride, a CIA operative who schooled Alan Arkin in all sorts of things in The In-Laws, and Sam Diamond in the 1976 whodunnit send-up Murder By Death.

I’m sure everyone has their favorite Falk memories and roles, so please use the comments section to share them and tribute the actor.

Comments are monitored, so don’t go off topic, don’t frakkin’ curse and don’t bore us with how much your coworker’s sister-in-law makes per hour. Talk smart about TV!

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  1. Brittany says:

    Crying so much right now…he will really be missed. =(

    • Parti Di Ricambio says:

      He left many people including myself a template in our memories that each time i see anything to do with crimnal investagation his name comes up…he was just lovable.

  2. PJL says:

    I always liked Falk as Max, the angel. But Columbo was/is one of the best detectives ever, like an American Poirot.

    • RIP Peter says:

      I remember that time, it was rare that a show WASN’T a cop/detective show. Starsky and Hutch, Ironsides, Kojak, Baretta, Police Woman, Ellory Queen, McMillan and Wife, Rockford Files, Columbo…etc and all those shows had multiple seasons, not like today when you can be gone after one episode.

      RIP Detective

  3. emmitwest says:

    Perhaps the best tribute will be other characters like Chief Brenda Johnson, and even moreso, Law&Order: Criminal Intent’s detective Robert Goren played by Vincent D’Onofrio. Goren embodies Falk’s Columbo to a “T”.

    RIP Peter Falk

  4. Cantare says:

    “Serpentine, Shelly, serpentine!”

    • darcy's evil twin says:

      Oh my gosh, LOL. Someone else remembers Falk’s hilarious performance in the original, “The In-Laws”. When my husband told me Peter Falk had died, all I could think of was “Serpentine, Shelly, Serpentine!”

  5. Ryan says:

    Very sad for his fans and especially his family but it seems he and they had lots of hardships over the years so may they find some peace

  6. Richard from Germany says:

    It is hard to believe or understand, that our beloved Peter is now gone. I started watching Columbo when I was 12, i.e. 20 years ago.
    He was something like a good friend on the screen for me.
    His signed autograph has a special place in our living room on the wall – forever.
    Peter – we miss you.

  7. skyfan says:

    I recall Falk as a different “Max” – the bumbling assistant in The Great Race. He was the perfect foil for Jack Lemmon’s scheming Professor Fate. Classic!

  8. Linda says:

    Columbo was one of my Mom’s favorite shows. She is gone now too but I have happy memories of watching the show with her when I was young.

    RIP Peter.

  9. Suncatcher says:

    @Linda – how ironic – My Mom’s favorite TV show was Columbo. She loved Peter Falk (me too!) and we always watched it together. She died of Alzheimers and now, our beloved Peter Falk. I miss them both. I hope they and your Mom are having one heck of a conversation up there! “Just one more thing..!”

    – RIP, Peter Falk.

  10. L says:

    Hope he rests in peace. Thanks for the wonderful body of work you left us.

  11. Suncatcher says:

    PS – Two favorite Peter Falk moments:

    – One, “Any Old Port In The Storm” where Columbo matches wits with wine snob and murderer, Adrian Carsini, of Carsini Wineries (played brilliantly by Donald Pleasence). Columbo played with the snob – and the temperture in the wine cellar- and got his man!

    – The other, “Rest In Peace, Mrs. Columbo,” Falk was brilliant, playing a deadly game with a psychotic woman determined to kill
    MRS. Columbo in vengeance for her husband dying in prison after being sent there by Detective Columbo. You never saw Mrs. Columbo!

    How come the script writing isn’t as good today as it was back then?

  12. Steven says:

    He’ll always be the Grandpa reading a bedtime story to Fred Savage to me. RIP.

  13. Gusar says:

    He is a legend. Not sure what else I can say, no words could live up to how great he was, so I’ll leave it at that. He is a legend.

    Rest in peace, Peter.

  14. Teresa G. says:

    I am watching Columbo right now..when I was young I would go into my Mom’s bedroom and watch it with her and my sisters…now 2 of my favorite people are gone. RIP Peter

  15. Mikos says:

    It is silly how much enjoyment I got during any episode of Columbo when he had just one more question for a suspect.

    I will think of him every time I think of angels and how a cup of coffee can warm you up on a cold day.

  16. J. Norman says:

    The first thing I clearly remember seeing him in was “The Great Race” where he came pretty damn close to stealing the show from Natalie Wood and Jack Lemmon. Later I watched him in his “breakthrough” role of Relis in Murder Inc.
    But he will always be Columbo. That is his role and legacy for the ages.

  17. zoot says:

    I LOVED Sunday Mystery Movies…Columbo and MacMillan and Wife were my favorites…I wish the networks would bring back this type of quality television..same thing with Disney’s Sunday Night Movies. Why do we have to watch reality television junk..when they can rotate 3 or 4 different shows every week. None of the silly pick-up panic…just make 4 really good episodes of 4 different shows and rotate them.

  18. David says:

    Can´t say how often I have watched episodes of Columbo over and over again, prefering the reruns over anything else going on on TV. I miss you Peter, rest in peace :´-) Hope I´ll meet you some day in heaven for a chat. Much love from Austria, David

  19. sylvain says:

    Of course he was best known forhis interpretation of Lnt Columbo in Europ and there is periodically re-runs of the cult serie.
    But he was also known for other more character-driven performance on films with german directors for example.

  20. Peter Taylor says:

    It was watching Columbo when i was little, that stopped me from turning to Crime.. i hope that when he reached the Gates of Heaven..he turned around and said ‘Just one more thing!’

  21. Antonio Silvestri says:

    It’s impossible to put in to words the enjoyment I had over the years watching the bumbling detective catch his man (or woman). A sad day for sure. O’h, just one more thing!

  22. may says:

    god bless x

  23. Templar says:

    From “Robin and the 7 Hoods” to “Princess Bride” and everywhere in between, superb.

  24. Pamela Mhlanga says:

    A true legend. He will never be forgotten. Rest in peace Peter.

  25. Nikki Lella says:

    RIP Peter…I will still be watching your columbo’s on TV…You will never be forgotten..XnX

  26. Chaban says:

    Wish he had made both of those last Columbos while he could. Alzheimers steals so much.

    He was truly a classy gentleman and every time I heard his voice, it was comforting.

    Unlike so many of our icons, he never let you down.

    If there is an afterlife, I hope to meet him among the many.

  27. Jill Moy says:

    A real shame! Best show ever, best tv actor ever! By best show I mean COLUMBO!

    By a shame I mean…A LEGEND LIKE THIS ONLY DESERVES 30 COMMENTS? What’s wrong with this world? A crappy show like American Idol gets many hundreds of comments, but Peter Falk gets 30????????

    I’m writing this 37 months after the fact and I am flabbergasted, to say the least!

    WAKE UP PEOPLE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  28. ellen rubenstein says:

    Watched them over and over. My favorite is Bird in the Hand