Oh, and just one more thing, sir, if you you don’t mind…
The best way to celebrate Peter Falk’s life is to savor how Columbo, his signature character, fortified our lives.
Thanks to Falk’s affectionately genuine portrayal, Lt. Columbo established himself for all time as a champion of any viewer who ever felt less than graceful, elegant or well-spoken.
Falk died Thursday at age 83 in his Beverly Hills, Calif., home, according to a statement released Friday 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.
But Columbo lives on as the ideal of anyone with a smudge on his tie, whose car isn’t the sportiest, who typically seems clueless, who gets dissed by fancy people.
As a police detective, Columbo’s interview technique was famously disjointed, with his inevitable awkward after-thought (“Ahhh, there’s just one more thing…”) trying the patience of his suspect when he was already halfway out the door.
Columbo was underestimated, patronized or simply overlooked by nearly everyone he met — especially the culprit.
And yet Columbo, drawing on inner pluck for only he (and an actor as skilled as Falk) could have accounted, always prevailed. Contrary to all evidence (that is, until he nailed the bad guy), Columbo always knew what he was doing.
Even more inspiring for viewers, he was unconcerned with how other people saw him. He seemed to be perfectly happy with himself, his life, his pet bassett, Dog, his wheezing Peugeot, and his never-seen wife. A squat man chewing cigars in a rumpled trench coat, he stands tall among TV’s most self-assured heroes.
What viewer won’t take solace forever from the lessons that Columbo taught by his enduring example?
Columbo — he never had a first name — presented a refreshing 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.”
On another occasion, he described Columbo as “an ass-backwards Sherlock Holmes.”
Columbo’s trademark was an ancient raincoat Falk had once bought for himself. After 25 years on television, the coat became so tattered it had to be replaced.
Falk was already an experienced Broadway actor and two-time Oscar nominee when he began playing Columbo. And, long before then, he had demonstrated a bit of Columbo-worthy spunk: at 3, he had one eye removed because of cancer.
Then, when he was starting as an actor in New York, an agent told him, “Of course, you won’t be able to work in movies or TV because of your eye.” And after failing a screen test at Columbia Pictures, he was told by studio boss Harry Cohn that “for the same price I can get an actor with two eyes.”
Falk proved otherwise, even before “Columbo,” picking up back-to-back Oscar nominations as best supporting actor for the 1960 mob drama “Murder, Inc.” and Frank Capra’s last film, the 1961 comedy-drama “Pocketful of Miracles.”
Peter Michael Falk was born in 1927, in New York City and grew up in Ossining, N.Y., where his parents ran a clothing store.
After serving as a cook in the merchant marine and receiving a master’s degree in public administration from Syracuse University, Falk worked as an efficiency expert for the budget bureau of the state of Connecticut.
……Falk is survived by his wife Shera and his two daughters.