'Just one more thing' – Peter Falk, star of 'Columbo', dies aged 83

By Richard Hall
Saturday 22 October 2011 23:31

Actor Peter Falk, most famous for his role as the television detective Columbo, has died aged 83.

The American actor, who had been suffering from dementia and Alzheimer's disease, died at his home in Beverly Hills on Thursday night, a statement issued by his family's lawyer said. He is survived by his wife of 34 years Shera and two daughters from a previous marriage.

Like many actors of his generation, Falk began his career on the stage, honing his craft in school, community theatre and off Broadway. By the late 1950s he began to star in Broadway productions, and soon made his move to Hollywood.

Falk's breakout film role came with 1960's Murder, Inc. in the supporting part of a killer among a gang of thugs, but it was his performance on the opposite side of the law – as police lieutenant Columbo – that earned Falk superstardom.

The much-loved actor won four Emmys for his starring role in the popular series, in which he played a self-deprecating, shabbily dressed detective with a keen eye for detail.

Falk first played Columbo in Prescription: Murder, a 1968 television -film, and from 1971 to 1978 the series aired regularly on the US television network NBC.

The show was hugely successful throughout the 1970s, and was later shown regularly on British daytime television. It was screened in more than 26 foreign countries, and Columbo's famous catchphrase "Just one more thing" – which often preceded him cornering a murderer or criminal with an inescapable line of questioning – is known to millions worldwide.

"He looks like a flood victim," Falk once said of his character. "You feel sorry for him. He appears to be seeing nothing, but he's seeing everything."

"Columbo is an ass-backwards Sherlock Holmes. Holmes had a long neck, Columbo has no neck; Holmes smoked a pipe, Columbo chews up six cigars a day," he said.

Johnny Cash appeared in one episode of the show, and wrote in his autobiography: "Peter Falk was good to me. I wasn't at all confident about handling a dramatic role, and every day he helped me in all kinds of little ways."

Falk was born on 16 September 1927, in New York City and grew up in Ossining in Westchester County, New York, where his parents ran a clothing store. At three he had one eye removed because of cancer. "When something like that happens early," he said in a 1963 interview, "you learn to live with it. It became the joke of the neighbourhood. If the umpire ruled me out on a bad call, I'd take the fake eye out and hand it to him."

When 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."

Falk would later win two Oscar nominations for his roles in Murder, Inc. and 1961's Pocketful of Miracles.

He demonstrated his versatility by appearing in a number of art-house favourites, including the semi-improvised films Husbands and A Woman Under the Influence, directed by his friend John Cassavetes, and Wim Wenders' Wings of Desire.

The actor was suffering from advanced dementia which began after a series of dental operations in 2007. His condition worsened again after a hip operation in June last year.

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