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Peter Falk, TV's 'Columbo,' dies at 83

Peter Falk, the star of the TV show

Peter Falk, the star of the TV show 'Columbo.' Photo Credit: Handout

Peter Falk, one of the most beloved and honored actors in TV history, died Thursday in his Beverly Hills, Calif., home.

Falk, 83, had been suffering from Alzheimer's disease for many years. The actor's death was announced in a statement by Larry Larson, a family friend.

In a career that spanned more than 60 years, Falk was an esteemed stage actor, worked with film directors as diverse as John Cassavetes, Frank Capra and Wim Wenders, and earned two Oscar nominations. But it was the battered raincoat and character with no first name that made him an iconic figure in TV.

"Columbo" began on NBC in 1971, and by the time it wrapped for good in 2001 as a long-running ABC-TV movie series, the show had been exported to dozens of countries and Lt. Columbo had become nearly as renowned and ubiquitous as Sherlock Holmes.

"Columbo" -- for which he won four Emmys -- tended to overshadow a fine stage and movie career. Two of his most memorable movies, "Husbands" and "A Woman Under the Influence," were art-house favorites directed by Cassavetes, his close friend and mentor. In an interview, Cassavetes, who died in 1989, said of Falk: "He's deep. He's gentle. He's two thousand years old. He's somebody everybody falls in love with."

Falk seemed to embrace Cassavetes' theory in his most famous creation. Bumbling, shuffling, and rumpled, Lt. Columbo entered a crime scene as the seemingly hapless know-nothing. He'd fumble in the pockets of his raincoat for something he'd forgotten, and invariably withdraw an old shopping list. The perpetrator -- devious, clever, and invariably snookered by the closing minutes -- almost always seemed to stumble right after Columbo mumbled one of the most memorable lines in all of TV history: ". . . just one more thing . . ."

In an interview with Newsday in 1989, he recalled buying the soon-to-be-famous raincoat on 57th Street in 1967. "Four years later, I was doing Columbo and said I wanted to wear this coat -- brown. Have him wear everything brown. Dye the suit brown. Just a little color, a dab of green in the tie. Got the shoes. My shoes. Brown shoes." By the late '80s, it had not been retired.

Peter Michael Falk was born Sept. 16, 1927, in New York City and grew up in Ossining. At 3 he had one eye removed because of cancer. He served as a cook in the Merchant Marine and earned a master's degree in public administration from Syracuse University. He acted in amateur theater and was encouraged to become a professional.

Falk made his film debut in 1958 with "Wind Across the Everglades" and established himself as a talented character actor with an Oscar-nominated performance in "Murder, Inc."

He was married to pianist Alyce Mayo in 1960; they had two daughters, Jackie and Catherine, and divorced in 1976. The following year he married actress Shera Danese. He is survived by his wife and his two daughters. With AP

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