'Just One More Thing' About Falk, TV's 'Columbo'

Peter Falk, who was known to TV viewers around the world for his portrayal of the disheveled and seemingly inept homicide detective Lt. Columbo, died on Thursday. He was 83.

Falk joined Fresh Air's Terry Gross in 1995 for a discussion about his acting career and about what it was like to grow up with a glass eye.

"I was very comfortable with it," he said. "And I realized you could get a laugh with it. ... You could always get people's attention if you took a spoon and tapped it."

Falk won three Emmys for his work on Columbo. He was also nominated for two Oscars and appeared in stage productions by Paddy Chayefsky, Neil Simon and Arthur Miller. His film credits include Murder By Death, The In-Laws and The Princess Bride.

Peter Falk, TV's Legendary 'Columbo,' Dies At 83

  • Peter Falk reads to Fred Savage in the 1987 cult classic film The Princess Bride.
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    Peter Falk reads to Fred Savage in the 1987 cult classic film The Princess Bride.
    20th Century Fox/The Kobal Collection
  • Falk admires the Emmy he won in 1962 for outstanding single performance by an actor, for his role in The Price of Tomatoes, a Dick Powell show.
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    Falk admires the Emmy he won in 1962 for outstanding single performance by an actor, for his role in The Price of Tomatoes, a Dick Powell show.
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  • Falk poses for a photo in 1965. He was in several films and television shows before starring in the detective drama Columbo.
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    Falk poses for a photo in 1965. He was in several films and television shows before starring in the detective drama Columbo.
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  • Falk as Lt. Columbo, the star of the show. Columbo ran for seven years in the 1970s and later inspired several TV movies between 1989 and 2003.
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    Falk as Lt. Columbo, the star of the show. Columbo ran for seven years in the 1970s and later inspired several TV movies between 1989 and 2003.
    NBC/AP
  • Wings of Desire  was one of Falk's last prominent film roles. He played a former angel living on Earth.
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    Wings of Desire was one of Falk's last prominent film roles. He played a former angel living on Earth.
    Road Movies/Argos Films/WDR/The Kobal Collection
  • Falk had been married to actress Shera Danese since 1977. The couple poses for photographs at the Golden Globe Awards in Beverly Hills in 2006.
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    Falk had been married to actress Shera Danese since 1977. The couple poses for photographs at the Golden Globe Awards in Beverly Hills in 2006.
    Susan Goldman/AFP/Getty Images
  • Falk arrives for the NBC 75th Anniversary celebration at Rockefeller Center in New York City, in 2002.
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    Falk arrives for the NBC 75th Anniversary celebration at Rockefeller Center in New York City, in 2002.
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Police Lt. Columbo didn't seem like the cop you'd want on your case. He was absent-minded, and he didn't seem serious. He drove an old car, his hair was a mess, he chewed a cigar and he always had on that rumpled raincoat.

But it was in this role as one of TV's legendary crime solvers that Peter Falk became a household name. Falk died Thursday at his home in Beverly Hills. He was 83.

In a 1995 interview, Falk told Fresh Air's Terry Gross that the disheveled detective was a part he immediately wanted to play. He was attracted to the role of "a guy appearing less then he actually is," Falk explained. "And that disarming quality of not ever appearing formidable."

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Adding to his character's deceptive appearance was the fact that the actor sometimes played tricks with his glass eye. (When Falk was 3 years old, cancer forced him to have one of his eyes removed.) Falk said he sometimes he used his glass eye to get a reaction. Columbo was famous for looking puzzled ... while he cunningly put the pieces together.

Falk grew up in Ossining, N.Y., just north of New York City. His father owned a dry-goods store. For a few years after college Falk was an "efficiency expert" for the Connecticut State Budget Bureau. But he was bored, so he started acting in off-Broadway productions, and then made his transition to film.

In the 1970s he worked with director John Cassavetes, starring in the domestic dramas Husbands and A Woman Under the Influence. He was twice nominated for Oscars for A Pocketful of Miracles and Murder, Inc. And he had a small but memorable part as an angry taxi driver in It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.

Falk proved time and again he could stretch as an actor. But he will forever be known as the disarming, forgetful, but clever Columbo. He didn't mind, though; there are worse things than being typecast, he told Gross in 2000.

"It ain't cancer," Falk said. "I mean, I make a lot of dough." Complain to an average person about being famous only for one role, he said, and he'll tell you, "What are you complaining about, that he's typecast? He does make a lot of money and he gets good seats in restaurants.' "

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