After a few years of battling the Alzheimer disease, Emmy-winning actor Peter Falk passed away at the age of 83. The actor was best known to world audiences as the police detective "Columbo." Variety reports he died Thursday at his home in Beverly Hills. Falk won five Emmys, four for portraying Columbo, and was twice Oscar nommed for supporting roles.
Actor-director John Cassavetes referred to him as the man "everybody falls in love with." Falk had several starring roles in films directed by Cassavetes, found success onstage, even winning a Tony in the early '70s for Neil Simon's "The Prisoner of Second Avenue," and drew two Oscar nominations early in his career. But television proved to be the medium that most effectively brought across his compact, rumpled, impish quality.
By the mid-1970s, when "Columbo" was at its height, Falk was earning $500,000 for each of the two-hour telepics. Ironically, he fought for years with Universal Television to let him out of his "Columbo" contract, only to return time and again to the character.
"Columbo" was a worldwide television phenomenon, and it brought him to the attention of Wim Wenders, who starred Falk in what was probably the best film of his later career, "Wings of Desire" (he also appeared in the sequel, "Faraway, So Close").
Falk did not decide on an acting career until he was almost 30. Born in Manhattan, he was rasied in Ossining, N.Y. After serving in the merchant marine for 18 months as a cook in the days following WWII, he studied at Hamilton College, finished his B.A. in political science at the New School for Social Research in 1951 and his M.A. in public administration at Syracuse U.
After being rejected by the CIA, he worked for the state of Connecticut and began acting in community theater. Encouraged by his acting teacher, he quit his job and moved to New York to study under Jack Landau and Sanford Meisner, making his Off Broadway debut in 1956 in Moliere's "Don Juan" and hitting Broadway in "St. Joan" when it transferred from Off Broadway in 1957.
Next came the role of the bartender in the hit revival of Eugene O'Neill's "The Iceman Cometh" and roles in "Diary of a Scoundrel," "The Lady's Not for Burning," "Purple Dust," "Bonds of Interest" and "Comic Strip."
He was discouraged from seeking employment in the movies due to his glass eye, the result of the removal of his real eye at the age of 3 due to a malignant tumor. Columbia's Harry Cohn, after expressing interest in the young actor, turned him away when he heard of the artificial eye, which caused Falk to squint somewhat - a disadvantage that was to become an envied acting trademark.
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