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Peter Falk, TV’s Legendary ‘Columbo,’ Dies At 83

Filed by KOSU News in Art & Life.
June 24, 2011

Police Lt. Columbo didn’t seem like the cop you’d want on your case. He was absent-minded, and he didn’t seem serious. He drove an old car, his hair was a mess, he chewed a cigar and he always had on that rumpled raincoat.

But it was in this role as one of TV’s legendary crime solvers that Peter Falk became a household name. Falk died Thursday at his home in Beverly Hills. He was 83.

In a 2000 interview, Falk told Fresh Air’s Terry Gross that the disheveled detective was a part he immediately wanted to play. He was attracted to the role of “a guy appearing less then he actually is,” Falk explained. “And that disarming quality of not ever appearing formidable.”

Adding to his character’s deceptive appearance was the fact that the actor sometimes played tricks with his glass eye. (When Falk was 3 years old, cancer forced him to have one of his eyes removed.) Falk said he sometimes he used his glass eye to get a reaction. Columbo was famous for looking puzzled … while he cunningly put the pieces together.

Falk grew up in Ossining, N.Y., just north of New York City. His father owned a dry-goods store. For a few years after college Falk was an “efficiency expert” for the Connecticut State Budget Bureau. But he was bored, so he started acting in off-Broadway productions, and then made his transition to film.

In the 1970s he worked with director John Cassavetes, starring in the domestic dramas Husbands and A Woman Under the Influence. He was twice nominated for Oscars for A Pocketful of Miracles and Murder, Inc. And he had a small but memorable part as an angry taxi driver in It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.

Falk proved time and again he could stretch as an actor. But he will forever be known as the disarming, forgetful, but clever Columbo. He didn’t mind, though; there are worse things than being typecast, he told Gross in 2000.

“It ain’t cancer,” Falk said. “I mean, I make a lot of dough.” Complain to an average person about being famous only for one role, he said, and he’ll tell you, “What are you complaining about, that he’s typecast? He does make a lot of money and he gets good seats in restaurants.’ ” [Copyright 2011 National Public Radio]

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