Columbo isn’t dead, since he is just a TV character. Of course, Friday’s headlines still proclaimed Columbo dead since the legendary actor who played him died at age 83. Peter Falk had a long and accomplished career that spanned throughout the decades, and included star-making roles in movies and television. Yet every actor has one role that they will be remembered for above all, and for Falk, Lt. Columbo was it.
Falk’s history with the character lasted 35 years, from 1968 to 2003. It included a hit TV series on NBC in the 1970s, and several TV movies through the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. Along the way, the character and the actor who played him became practically one and the same to TV viewers.
But Columbo wasn’t Falk’s only role, as he wasn’t limited to television sleuthing. In fact, years before he won his most iconic role, he was already a two-time Oscar nominee for 1961’s Murder Inc and 1962’s Pocketful of Miracles. His movie filmography took off even further in the 1970s, with notable films like Husbands and The In-Laws. Afterwards, 1980s audiences best knew him as the storyteller of The Princess Bride.
Yet for all his varied movies and shows, the one that is best remembered by Falk fans today is of Columbo. For some actors, that can be a curse, as getting linked to one signature role can typecast someone through their career. Sometimes that works to an advantage, and other times it reduces them to a mere caricature — and sometimes a little bit of both happens.
However, while Falk was always best recognized as Columbo — especially since he kept playing him for 35 years — the role never overshadowed him. People were able to buy him in other parts, in movies as varied as stark dramas like Husbands, and fantasies like The Princess Bride. So if fans can say that Columbo is dead, then so are characters like Husbands’ Archie Black, The In-Laws‘ Vincent Ricardo, and The Princess Bride‘s Grandpa.
Yet for all of this success, Falk was unable to remember any of it at the end, as he reportedly suffered from dementia and Alzheimer in the last years of his life. In fact, according to the Associated Press back in June 2009, he couldn’t even remember playing Columbo anymore.
Still, his fans never forgot it, and that is partly why Falk was mourned by the TV and film communities on Friday. Yet Columbo the character may not be dead for good, since Hollywood eventually remakes everything and finds new actors to play iconic roles. But even if the detective returns someday, the shadow of his most famous incarnation and actor may still be too strong.
Reuters- “Columbo actor Peter Falk dead at 83”
Hitfix- “Peter Falk earns his angel wings at 83”
Huffington Post- “Columbo Actor Peter Falk Placed In Conservatorship”