Peter Falk died yesterday.
He was 83 and I know the last few years weren’t at all pleasant for him.
But still, another one of my childhood heroes, gone.
I was in love with Columbo. Flat-out, plan our wedding for when I reach legal age, in love. That little, rumpled, absentminded genius who used other people’s arrogant assumptions against them, sending them chasing after their own clues until they tripped and fell at his feet?* Oh, yeah. There will never be another actor worthy of wearing his trenchcoat.
His first roles, though, were on the other side of the law: heavies, gangsters, mobsters, thugs. Some of them were redeemable, or had their own personal codes of conduct, but some were thoroughly, amorally frightening. Abe in Murder Inc. remains one of the most ruthless and unrepentant criminals I’ve ever seen. As much as I loved Peter Falk, I’ve never been so glad to see anyone get theirs.
But Mr. Falk had the talent and confidence to poke fun at himself, too. Sam Diamond, in Murder by Death—which is one of my favorite movies of all time— is the perfect parody of the hard-boiled detective without a clue. If I’d been his secretary, I’d have brained him with the poker and walked away He plays Guy Gisborne in Robin and the Seven Hoods—also in my top five—as pure, evil, lecherous ham.
And he made me cry at the end of Princess Bride with three little words. You know the ones:
Goodbye, Mr. Falk. I’ll miss you.
And I forgive you for not marrying me when I grew up.
*Columbo’s axiom: if you commit the perfect crime, shut up, sit still, and don’t improvise.