The legendary Peter Falk — multiple Emmy winner, two-time Oscar nominee (“Pocketful of Miracles,” “Murder Inc.”), and one helluva character actor best known for playing television’s slyly bumbling Lt. Columbo, died today at the age of 83.
Beyond his iconic work on television, Falk’s presence was also memorable on the big screen. From his starring roles in “The In-Laws” (“Serpentine!“) and “Murder By Death,” to his regular place in iconoclastic director John Cassavettes’ ensemble, including the classic “A Woman Under the Influence,” to supporting roles in “It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World,” “The Princess Bride” and “Made.” He wan’t always in good films but he was always good in them. The last thing I saw him in was Nicolas Cage’s messy sc-fi actioner “Next.” If memory serves, Falk had only one scene and it was by far my favorite.
Though I grew up watching “Columbo” (and purely by coincidence, my wife has been watching the reruns on Netflix Streaming all week) it was his role as the suspicious, exasperated gangster Joy Boy in the 1961 Frank Capra film “Pocketful of Miracles” that made me a fan. Capra’s final feature is flawed in many ways, including over-length, but Falk’s every scene is a real standout. The time in-between Falk’s scenes is spent waiting for Joy Boy to return. If I remember correctly, in his auto-biography, Capra had nothing but praise for Falk as an actor and a man. Can’t say the same for the film’s other star, Glenn Ford.
It’s been reported that in the last few years of his life, Falk suffered from dementia — likely due to Alzheimer’s.
The actor was 83.
Oh, just one more thing….
After graduating from high school in 1945, Falk briefly attended Hamilton College in Clinton, New York, and then tried to join the armed services as World War II was drawing to a close. Rejected because of his glass eye, he joined the United States Merchant Marine, and served as a cook and mess boy. “There they don’t care if you’re blind or not”, Falk said in 1997. “The only one on a ship who has to see is the captain. And in the case of the Titanic, he couldn’t see very well, either.” Falk recalls this period in his autobiography:
- A year on the water was enough for me, so I returned to college. I didn’t stay long. Too itchy. What to do next? I signed up to go to Israel to fight in the war with Egypt. . . . I just wanted more excitement. . . . However, the war, to everyone’s amazement, was over in the blink of an eye.
After a year and a half in the Merchant Marine, Falk returned to Hamilton College and also attended the University of Wisconsin.
Rest in peace.
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