‘Columbo’ Star Peter Falk Dies at 83

Veteran character actor was best known for his role as the trenchcoat-wearing detective and collaborations with John Cassavetes

"Columbo" star Peter Falk died Thursday in his Beverly Hills home, according to a statement released by his family. He was 83. 

No cause of death was given, but the veteran character actor had been suffering from Alzheimer's disease.

The gravelly voiced Falk was best known for his portrayal of the trenchcoat-wearing detective on the long-running "Columbo."

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He received four Emmy awards for his starring role on the series, and his perpetual squint, the result of the loss of an eye, and idiosyncratic delivery made Falk both a television icon and a favorite figure to imitate for comics.  The series ran from 1971-78 on NBC and launched several later television movies that aired on ABC. 

Falk was also a key member of iconoclastic filmmaker John Cassavetes' regular ensemble, starring in such independent film classics as "A Woman Under the Influence" (1974) and "Husbands" (1970). In his collaborations with Cassavetes' Falk often portrayed hard drinking, blue-collar figures, whose brutish exteriors mask bruised egos and surprisingly tender sides. 

Preferring smoother faced and voiced actors, Hollywood failed to provide Falk with the kind of meaty roles that he enjoyed throughout his work with Cassavetes. However, he was frequently in demand, usually appearing as the heavy in gangster films such as "Murder Inc." (1960) or the comic foil in film parodies such as "Murder By Death" (1976). 

Falk received two Oscar nominations for his work in "Murder Inc." and Frank Capra's "Pocketful of Miracles" (1961). 

Largely wasted in big-budget pileups such as "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World" (1963) and "Robin and the 7 Hoods" (1964), Falk's most memorable comedic role was in the action-comedy "The In-Laws" (1979). As a risk-taking CIA agent who drags a mild mannered dentist into various misadventures before their children get married, Falk's gruff persona was paired brilliantly with an extremely neurotic Alan Arkin. The chemistry they enjoyed was noticeably absent in Hollywood's laugh-lacking 2003 remake with Michael Douglas and Albert Brooks. 

Though his film career began to wane toward the end of the 1970s, Falk did manage to snag two other high-profile roles that helped cement his legacy. His portrayal of the story-telling grandfather in Rob Reiner's "The Princess Bride" (1986) helped re-introduce the actor to a mainstream crowd, while his role playing himself in Wim Wenders' fantasy drama "Wings of Desire" (1987) re-established his art house bona fides. 

In addition to his work in film and television, Falk remained active on the stage. He appeared on and off-Broadway in plays such as "Saint Joan" and "The Iceman Cometh," and won a Tony in 1972 for his work in Neil Simon's "The Prisoners of Second Avenue." 

Falk's later health struggles made his last years contentious ones. In 2009, with Falk struggling with dementia, his wife, Shera, and daughter, Catherine, engaged in a legal fight over who would remain in charge of his personal affairs. On a judge's orders, Shera was able to retain control.

Falk is survived by Shera, and two daughters from a previous marriage.