Actor Peter Falk died last night at his home in Beverly Hills, a family spokesman tells CBS News radio. The cause of death wasn't disclosed, but the 83-year-old actor's daughter said in 2008 that he was suffering from Alzheimer's.
Falk's filthy trenchcoat and chewed-off cigar on the NBC detective series Columbo made him a television icon, but he was also a favorite of serious directors like John Cassavetes and received back-to-back Best Supporting Actor nominations in 1960 (Murder Inc.) and 1961 (Pocketful of Miracles). And in 1987, he famously read a book called The Princess Bride to his sick grandson. He will be missed.
Update 1: Here are some of the loving Twitter tributes to Falk that have come in in the minutes since his death was announced.
- Michael McKean, actor: "Peter Falk was a dear man and a great actor. This one is tough to take."
John Dickerson, Slate political correspondent: "RIP Peter Falk. You taught me how to ask questions."
Bill Corbett, actor: "RIP Peter Falk, my favorite kind of actor: great in comedy, drama, stuff in-between. Happy trails, sir"
Joe Flint: the Los Angeles Times: "'Just one more thing...' RIP Peter Falk."
Alex Pareene, Salon: "R.I.P. Peter Falk, America's finest angel-turned-actor."
Update 2: The full New York Times obituary for Falk is up and it's terrific. We particularly enjoyed the description of the "slovenly but canny" Detective Columbo.
Update 3: The tributes to Falk continue to pour in. At Hollywood Elsewhere, Jeff Wells shares a vivid memory of seeing the actor in public:
I was milling around a Hollywood hardware store sometime in the early '80s, looking for a screwdriver or something, when I heard raised voices. Two or three Joe Sixpack-type meatheads were having fun at the expense of Peter Falk, who was poking around like me, just wandering down the aisles. "Aaaaay...Detective Columbo!," one of them was saying with the rest joining in. They just had to treat Falk like some kind of visiting celebrity alien. They couldn't be decent about it. They had to be assholes.
And I remember how the perturbed Falk walked right by me as these jerks were taunting him and making their little lame-ass cracks, and how he was trying to ignore them but at the same time was fiercely cussing and not all that quietly, going "Jeezus!....Jeezus!" I remember thinking to myself and trying to telepathically say to Falk, "Yes, yes...keep going! Turn around and let' em have it! You can do it, Peter!"
At Slate, Dana Stevens praised his intelligence and warmth:
There is something especially cruel about knowing that a mind-robbing disease like Alzheimer's was what took Falk's life. In all of his roles, but especially on Columbo, his was always the most perspicacious face on screen. Keenly intelligent and watchful, he was a warmer, menschier, more humble Sherlock Holmes, a man whose mind operated on a higher level than the rest of us. Nothing got by Peter Falk—but his hyper-alert vigilance always seemed to emerge from an underlying stillness, a state of openness to his fellow actors and to the moment.