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Peter Falk: More Than Meets the Eye

Published: 6/23/2014
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Peter Falk as Lieutenant Columbo (NBCU Photo Bank/Getty Images)

Peter Falk died three years ago this week, eight years after his last appearance as beloved television detective Columbo. For 35 years, Falk wore Columbo's unmistakable rumpled trench coat as he shuffled his way through the lives of the rich and famous, casually unraveling seemingly perfect murders. From 1968 to 2003, Falk starred in 69 movie-length episodes of Columbo, despite briefly leaving the show in 1974 over a late paycheck from the studio, according to the Toledo (Ohio) Blade newspaper.

In 2005, Falk told CNN's Larry King that he was attracted to the character because of his dichotomy, being both "a regular Joe, Joe Six-Pack, the neighbor like everybody else," as well as "the greatest homicide detective in the world. Now that's a great combination." Audiences agreed, and the "schlubby” gumshoe was a fan favorite for decades. Here he is making an arrest in "Death Hits the Jackpot."

Falk came to acting later in life than most, at age 29, after spending years trying to figure out what he wanted to do with his life. He served in the Merchant Marine, according to his obituary by The New York Times. In his memoir, aptly titled Just One More Thing, Falk says he tried to join the CIA but was rebuffed because of ties to organized labor. In a wide-ranging interview with Cigar Aficionado, he relates how he worked as an "efficiency expert" in the early 1950s before quitting his job to devote himself to acting full time. His breakout role was in Murder, Inc. as a hardened contract killer. The performance earned Falk his first Oscar nomination, in 1960. He was nominated again in 1961 for his work in the Frank Capra comedy Pocketful of Miracles. Here he is menacing his way through Murder, Inc.

As a cop or a criminal, Falk was always fascinating to watch. In addition to his work on Columbo and the films above, Falk turned in unforgettable performances in It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, Wings of Desire, A Woman Under the Influence and, of course, as everyone's favorite grandfather and storyteller in The Princess Bride.

Written by Seth Joseph. Find him on Google+.

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