Peter Falk had a long and happy life, an illustrious career, and an indelible mark on pop culture with Columbo. You can’t mourn Falk, exactly.
But you can mourn a system that fails produce more of him. Falk (handsome, but possessing the kind of fatal flaw that would boot him out of contention today — a glass eye) found his way to theater from an office cubicle. He climbed the ranks to Broadway. He struggled to get into film, but then seemed to land his breakthrough role in Murder Inc. by the same kind of shrugging miracle. As Falk himself said, a thousand other guys could have nabbed it, but he did, and it made him a success.
It was Columbo who defined him. Falk meticulously created the rumpled, grubby, and absent-minded detective, rejecting the sleek suit the designers had selected, and wearing his own raincoat instead. You can probably trace a number of television’s quirkier characters straight back to Columbo. He was probably the final death note to the snappy, sexy detective too.
Despite a cushy gig, Falk wasn’t the type to idle in one role. He had a real streak of adventure — he enlisted to join the Israel-Egypt war just out of boredom and a love of excitement — and I think that marks his daring turns with John Cassavetes and even Wim Wenders. There’s a sort of “Why the hell not?” to his late film choices, and also the mark of a consummate actor, always wanting to stretch and explore. He never stopped. He was working right up until 2008, until illness and infirmity appears to have finally caught up to him.
Columbo, Murder Inc., A Woman Under the Influence, Pressure Point, Murder By Death, and Opening Night are all on Netflix Instant. So is Columbo, for that matter. Don’t mourn the man. Go watch the actor.