Columbo Star Peter Falk Dead at 83

    Peter Falk NBCU Photo Bank via AP Images

    Peter Falk, the legendary actor who graced both big screen and small over a 50-year career but will perhaps best be remembered for his Emmy-winning role as the shabby-dressed, wisecracking homicide detective on TV's Columbo, has died. He was 83.

    Falk's family confirmed to CBS News the two-time Academy Award nominee passed away last night, though no cause of death has been announced.

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    Falk had been suffering from dementia and apparent Alzheimer's disease since 2007, with his condition worsening after a series of dental surgeries. His daughter, Catherine Falk, sought to be appointed his guardian in 2009, but in a conservatorship trial, a judge appointed that duty to his wife, Shera Danese Falk.

    As the cigar-chomping, seemingly slow-witted lieutenant Columbo, Falk was the epitome of cool as he went about solving some of TV's most perplexing mysteries with the classic catchprase, "Just One More Thing." Episodes aired regularly from 1971 to 1978 on NBC, before appearing sporadically as made-for-TV movies on both the Peacock net and ABC in subsequent years. The last Columbo episode was broadcast in 2003 and the iconic part nabbed the thesp four Emmy Awards (the fifth came in 1962 for the Dick Powell TV drama The Price of Tomatoes).

    Early on his career, Falk also made a name for himself on celluloid, scoring two Oscar nominations—for 1960's Murder Inc. and for Frank Capra's comedy Pocketful of Miracles a year later.

    He also costarred in Stanley Kramer's all-star 1963 comedy It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, playing a cab driver with a loathing for cops. He followed up the next year with the Rat Pack musical Robin and the 7 Hoods, opposite Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Bing Crosby and Edward G. Robinson.

    Falk also appeared in some of pal John Cassavetes' most memorable dramas, from 1970's Husbands to 1974's A Woman Under the Influence, while younger viewers may remember him best as the grandfather who introduced Buttercup and Wesley to a young Fred Savage in Rob Reiner's 1987 classic, The Princess Bride.

    Falk was born Sept. 16, 1927, in New York City. His Polish father ran a clothing store, and his mother, from Russia, was an accountant.

    As a child, he excelled at sports—despite having an operation to remove his right eye when he was 3 because of a cancerous tumor. A glass eye was put in its place, which in his later years lent his detective alter-ego that famous squinty-eyed gaze that often let the guilty know he was on to them.

    Falk's first stab at acting came at age 12 when he was cast in a summer-camp production of The Pirates of Penzance.

    After high school graduation, he spent some time in the Merchant Marine; however, due to his glass eye, he was relegated to serving as a cook.

    After getting his bachelor's degree in literature and political science at the New School in New York, Falk traveled in Europe before returning to earn his master's in public administration at Syracuse University.

    Around this time, he pursued theater with a passion, appearing in several Off Broadway productions including The Iceman Cometh.

    It was not long before Hollywood came calling and Falk made his feature debut in 1958's Wind Across the Everglades.

    He would alternate between film and television throughout much of his long career, appearing in episodes of Have Gun Will Travel, The Untouchables and The Twilight Zone.

    In his later years, while the Columbo movies tapered off, he still maintained a busy work schedule, starring in Wim Wenders' 1987 drama Wings of Desire and its subsequent sequel, Faraway, So Close!. In the late '90s, he returned to his theater roots as well, appearing in an Off Broadway production of Arthur Miller's Mr. Peter's Connections.

    In the early 2000s he appeared in the holiday-themed TV movies A Town Without Christmas, Finding John Christmas and When Angels Come to Town. In his final film role, he played Father Randolph in the 2009 indie film, American Cowslip, starring Val Kilmer, Diane Ladd and Cloris Leachman.

    Falk is survived by his wife, Shera, and two daughters. No word yet on funeral plans.

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