Peter Falk, TV’s Columbo has died

The dishevelled, trench-coat wearing, cigar-smoking Peter Falk, better known as television’s Lieutenant Colombo, died at his Beverley Hill’s home on Friday aged 83. The cause of death was not given, but he had battled Alzheimer’s in recent years.

Peter Falk, the gravel-voiced US actor who played Hollywood’s rumpled detective Lieutenant Columbo, has died at 83, family members told US media Friday.

Falk, whose portrayal of the disheveled, trenchcoat-wearing homicide detective made him a household name around the world and earned him several Emmy awards, died Thursday at his home in Beverly Hills, they said.

“Falk died peacefully at his Beverly Hills home in the evening of June 23, 2011,” said a family statement cited by US media.

The cause of death was not given. The actor had suffered from Alzheimer’s in recent years, and his wife Shera was appointed to look after his affairs in 2009.

In the hit TV show he played a seemingly slow-witted Los Angeles detective who invariably succeeded in nabbing the criminal just minutes before the closing credits.

The veteran actor also had considerable success on stage and on the big screen, scoring a couple of Oscar nominations among the more than 40 Hollywood movies in which he appeared.

Born in New York City on September 16, 1927, Falk wrote in his autobiography about a life-changing diagnosis he received when he was just three years old.

“The doctor told my mother that I had cancer of the eye and it had to be removed, and yesterday was not too soon,” he wrote in his 2006 book “Just One More Thing.”

“I was operated on two days later,” Falk wrote.

After surgeons removed his right eye, Falk was fitted with a glass eye, which did not stop him from becoming a star athlete and being elected class president at school.

After high school, Falk joined the merchant marines and went to sea as a cook, but then went to college to study public administration. He tried to get a job working for the CIA, but his membership in a labor union while a seaman — seen as having the taint of possible communist affiliation — torpedoed Falk’s chances of getting work as a government spy.

He later found employment at the post office, and then as a bureaucrat with the Connecticut state government, doing a bit of regional theater and taking acting classes on the side.

Then in 1956, at the age of 29, he abruptly quit his day job and decided to to move back to New York, declaring himself an actor.

The gamble paid off. Falk found quick on-stage success in a 1956 off-Broadway production of “The Iceman Cometh,” playing opposite legendary actor Jason Robards.

But Hollywood was not so hospitable at first. A movie talent scout reportedly had wanted to recruit Falk, but the actor was rejected by the head of a major movie studio.

Undaunted, Falk moved in 1960 to Hollywood, where he received an Oscar nomination for his first role, in “Murder, Inc.” He garnered another nomination for his second big screen role in the 1961 film “Pocketful of Miracles.”

But Falk is best remembered for his television turn as Columbo, which earned him four Emmy awards over the years.

The show started as a TV movie in 1968 and after being made a weekly series, in 1971 quickly rose in the ratings to become one of the most popular shows on television.

“Just one more thing,” Columbo would say several times each episode, resuming his questioning of the prime suspect who had been certain until that moment that he had failed to arouse the investigator’s suspicion.

Part of Falk’s loveable schtick as Columbo was the ever-present cigar that dangled from his fingers and his wrinkled trenchcoat, worn regardless of the weather, plucked from Falk’s bedroom closet.