Peter Falk, the iconic actor of stage, screen and television, died yesterday at his home in Beverly Hills. He was 83 years old and had been battling Alzheimer's Disease. Falk created a legendary persona that served him well: that of the inarticulate street guy. He also had a physical abnormality that he made work to his advantage: since the age of 3, he had a glass eye. Despite the fact that he rode to success playing rough, street-wise characters, he was actually highly educated. He earned a master's degree and did not enter acting until the relatively late age of 29. He found almost immediate success and appeared in acclaimed New York stage productions of classic plays by Arthur Miller and Paddy Chayefsky, among others. Falk also found a welcome reception in Hollywood, often playing gangsters. He scored a Best Supporting Actor nomination of Murder, Inc in 1960 and would be nominated again for playing a tough guy in Frank Capra's Pocketful of Miracles. He also played a memorable and funny gangster in the Rat Pack musical Robin and the 7 Hoods.
In 1967 Falk's career shifted into high gear when he accepted the role of Lt. Columbo for an NBC 90 minute mystery movie titled Prescription: Murder. The role that would come to define him was originally written as a mainstream law enforcement official and had originally been offered to both Bing Crosby and Lee J. Cobb. However, it was Falk who embellished Lt. Columbo by making him off-center, a rumpled, seemingly stupid man who actually always outwitted his more educated opponents. In general, Columbo specialized in taking down elitest criminals who had a sense of intellectual superiority. When the character was revived three years later as a recurring series of 90 minute mystery movies on NBC, the show attracted a Who's Who of big name guest stars, each of whom was eager to be bested onscreen by Columbo. Falk would go on to play the character on and off through 2003. Falk would be nominated an astonishing 12 times for Emmy awards, winning five times. Most of the nominations and and wins were related to Columbo.
Falk's other prominent feature films include It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, Anzio, The Brinks Job, The Princess Bride, The In-Laws, The Cheap Detective, Murder by Death, The Great Race and Castle Keep. He also collaborated with John Cassavetes on several acclaimed films including Husbands and A Woman Uner the Influence.