America lost its favorite cross-eyed detective today as Peter Falk, best known as Columbo, died in Beverly Hills at the age of 83, just two years younger than Hugh Hefner. I think we can all agree that his best role was as the kindly grandfather in The Princess Bride. Damn, I loved that guy.
His family announced his death in a statement, The Associated Press reported. He had been treated for Alzheimer’s disease in recent years.
Mr. Falk had a wide-ranging career in comedy and drama, in the movies and onstage, before and during the three-and-a-half decades in which he portrayed the slovenly but canny lead on “Columbo.” He was nominated for two Oscars; appeared in original stage productions of works by Paddy Chayefsky, Neil Simon and Arthur Miller, worked with the directors Frank Capra, John Cassavetes, Blake Edwards and Mike Nichols, and co-starred with the likes of Frank Sinatra, Bette Davis and Jason Robards.
But like that of his contemporary Telly Savalas of “Kojak” fame, Mr. Falk’s primetime popularity was founded on a single role.
A lieutenant in the Los Angeles Police Department, Columbo was a comic variation on the traditional fictional detective. With the keen mind of Sherlock Holmes and Philip Marlowe, he was cast in the mold of neither — not a gentleman scholar, and not a tough guy. He was instead a mass of quirks and peculiarities, a seemingly distracted figure in a rumpled raincoat, perpetually patting his pockets for a light for his signature stogie.
He drove a battered Peugeot, was unfailingly polite, was sometimes accompanied by a basset hound named Dog, and was constantly referring to the wisdom of his wife (who was never seen on screen) and a variety of relatives and acquaintances who were identified in Homeric-epithet-like shorthand — an uncle who played the bagpipes with the Shriners, say, or a nephew majoring in dermatology at U.C.L.A. — and who were called to mind by the circumstances of the crime at hand.
It was a low-rent affect that was especially irksome to the high-society murderers he outwitted in episode after episode.
Mr. Falk had a glass eye, resulting from an operation to remove a cancerous tumor when he was 3 years old. The prosthesis gave all his characters a peculiar, almost quizzical squint. And he had a mild speech impediment that gave his L’s a breathy quality, a sound that emanated from the back of his throat and that seemed especially emphatic whenever, in character, he introduced himself as Lieutenant Columbo. [NYTimes]
Yep, he was ridiculously likable. I keep trying to poke out one of Zac Efron’s eyes, or knock out one of Taylor Lautner’s teeth with a tack hammer to maybe give them little character, but nooo, you gotta handle everyone with kid gloves these days. Everyone’s a pussy. As for that headline, yes,all news of celebrity tragedy will be accompanied by a bad Roger Ebert pun from now on. “Hey, how about that Mama Cass? Hearing how she passed has me all choked up. But seriously, folks, try the veal.”
UPDATE: Here’s Columbo going apesh*t on some smarmy coffee motherf*cker. Thanks for the tip, Guy: