Columbo TV detective series star Peter Falk dies aged 83

Peter FALK, the stage and film actor who became identified as the squinty, rumpled detective in Columbo which spanned 30 years of prime-time TV, has died at the age of 83.

Falk died Thursday night at his Beverly Hills home, according to a statement released by family friend Larry Larson.

In a court document filed in December 2008, Falk’s daughter Catherine Falk said her father was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.

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Columbo began its history in 1971 as part of the NBC Sunday Mystery Movie series, appearing every third week. Columbo became by far the most popular of the three series, the others being McCloud and McMillan and Wife.

Falk was reportedly paid 250,000 US dollars a movie and could have made much more by converting Columbo into a weekly series. He declined, reasoning that carrying a weekly detective series would be too great a burden.

Columbo – he never had a first name – presented a contrast to other TV detectives. “He looks like a flood victim,” Falk once said. “You feel sorry for him. He appears to be seeing nothing, but he’s seeing everything. Underneath his dishevelment, a good mind is at work.”

NBC cancelled the three series in 1977. In 1989 ABC offered Columbo in a two-hour format usually appearing once or twice a season. The films continued into the 21st century.

Columbo appeared in 26 foreign countries and was a particular favourite in France and Iran.

Columbo’s trademark was an ancient raincoat Falk had bought for himself. After 25 years on TV, the coat became so tattered it had to be replaced.

Peter Michael Falk was born on September 16, 1927, in New York City and grew up in Ossining, 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, 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 and collect five Emmys.