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The man best-known to TV viewers as the Detective Columbo has died. Peter Falk was 83.

The disheveled police Lieutenant Columbo was one of TV's legendary crime solvers, as NPR's Elizabeth Blair reports.

ELIZABETH BLAIR: Before "Columbo," Peter Falk was in plenty of movies. He was twice-nominated for Oscars for "A Pocketful of Miracles" and "Murder, Inc." He had a small but memorable part as an angry taxi driver in "It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World."

(Soundbite of movie, "It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World")

Mr. PETER FALK (Actor): (as The Third Cabbie) That fat Nazi. What, I got to suffer because of him? Get away from me. What's the matter? Are you a freak? Can't you see Im talking on the phone?

BLAIR: But it was on TV as Police Lieutenant Columbo that Peter Falk became a household name.

(Soundbite of TV show, "Columbo")

Unidentified Woman: It's a smasher, especially if you're Irish.

Mr. FALK: (as Columbo): Well, my name, ma'am, is Columbo. Lieutenant. I'm with the police. I'm wondering, ma'am, if you can recall seeing the man that's in this photo.

Unidentified woman: (as character): Looks like he's asleep.

Mr. FALK: (as Columbo): Ah, yes, ma'am. You could say that.

BLAIR: Columbo didn't seem like the cop you'd want on your case. He was absent-minded, and he didn't seem serious.

(Soundbite of TV show, "Columbo")

Mr. FALK: (as Columbo) (singing) In a cavern, in a canyon...

BLAIR: He drove an old car, his hair was a mess, he chewed a cigar, he always had on that rumpled raincoat. Peter Falk told Terry Gross of WHYY's Fresh Air Columbo was somebody he immediately wanted play.

(Soundbite of archived interview)

Mr. FALK: The basic thrust of a guy appearing less than he actually is, that was always there. And the - that disarming quality of not ever appearing formidable was always there.

BLAIR: Adding to his deceptive appearance, he was cockeyed. When Peter Falk was 3 years old, he had an eye removed because of cancer. And Falk said, sometimes, he used his glass eye to get a reaction. Peter Falk's Columbo was famous for looking puzzled while he cunningly put the pieces together.

(Soundbite of TV show, "Columbo")

Mr. FALK: (as Columbo): That's funny, though. If she came home from the airport, what did she do with the dress and gloves? When we went over your apartment last week, we couldn't find them.

BLAIR: Peter Falk grew up in Ossining, New York, 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 on stage and off-Broadway productions, then he made his transition to film.

In the 1970s, he worked with director John Cassavetes, starring in the gritty domestic dramas "Husbands" and "A Woman Under the Influence."

(Soundbite of movie, "A Woman Under the Influence")

Mr. FALK: (as Nick Longhetti) I don't want anybody discussing my affairs. Is that clear?

Unidentified Man: (as character) Oh, yeah, yeah. But I'm not the only one.

Mr. FALK: (as Nick Longhetti) Don't discuss my affairs.

BLAIR: Peter Falk proved time and again he could stretch as an actor. But he will forever be known as the disarming, forgetful but clever Lieutenant Columbo. He told Terry Gross that being known more for that role than anything else wasn't so bad.

(Soundbite of archived interview)

Mr. FALK: It ain't cancer, so...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. FALK: The - I mean, I make a lot of dough, and I think it's difficult for the average person. What is he complaining about, that he's typecast? I mean, he does make a lot of money and he gets good seats in restaurants and - so I don't feel that that's something that people are really interested in.

BLAIR: Peter Falk died Thursday at his home in Beverly Hills. He was 83.

Elizabeth Blair, NPR News.

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