Actor Peter Falk passed away yesterday at the age of 83 after struggling with Alzheimer’s for several years.
He was, of course, best known as the titular detective in Columbo, a series of television films that ran intermittently from 1968 through 2003. The character had appeared in two previous incarnations played by different actors: Bert Freed in a 1960 episode of the anthology series The Chevy Mystery Show, and Thomas Mitchell in a 1962 stage adaptation of the episode, which was titled Prescription: Murder (incidentally, the role of Columbo would be Mitchell’s last; he died later that year). But Falk made the character his own, imbibing the detective with a deceptively rumpled appearance and nonchalant manner that disguised a quick wit and a brilliant mind. Over the course of thirty-five years and sixty-nine episodes, always wearing his trusty, ratty brown trenchcoat and spouting his iconic catchphrase, “Just one more thing …,” Columbo never failed to solve a case. His role on the show led to numerous Emmy nominations and four wins.
The height of Columbo’s popularity in the 1970s was a bit before our time here at True Classics, and it’s safe to say that we best knew the actor from his many film roles. At the beginning of his acting career, Falk received nominations for the Best Supporting Actor Academy Award in two consecutive years: in 1960 for his role as the murderous Abe Reles in the gangster film Murder Inc., and again the following year for his role in Frank Capra’s last film, the comedy Pocketful of Miracles (strangely enough, Pocketful also featured Thomas Mitchell’s final film performance). He appeared in a number of memorable films throughout his long career, including It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963), The Great Race (1965), A Woman Under the Influence (1974), and The In-Laws (1979).
But for those of us who grew up in the 80s and 90s, Falk will likely best be remembered for his role as the grandfather/narrator in 1986’s comedic fairy tale The Princess Bride. This movie is utterly beloved by many, including Carrie, Nikki, and myself (seriously—how could anyone not love this movie? It’s inconceivable!). As grandson Fred Savage recuperates from an illness, Falk tells him the fascinating story of Princess Buttercup and her one true love, Westley—a tale filled with swashbuckling, monsters, evildoers, magic and, yes, just a little kissing. Falk is the personification of indulgent love and patience, and his kindly voice provides pitch-perfect narration throughout the film. Like the grandson, we, the viewers, are won over by his story and want to hear it—and him—again and again, echoing the final lines of the film.
“Grandpa, maybe you could come over and read it again to me tomorrow.”
“As you wish.”
Rest in peace, Mr. Falk.