Peter Falk passed away in 2011 at the age of 83 after briefly battling pneumonia.
It was a solemn final curtain call for the beloved actor who for over three decades portrayed an equally disheveled and seemingly forgetful yet magnificently brilliant TV detective, Columbo. Falk had been suffering from Alzheimer’s disease that left his second wife fighting his children in a nasty battle for control of his $100 million estate.
Falk’s doctor, Stephen Read revealed that in his final days, his patient didn’t even remember who Columbo was. The disease took almost everything away from the actor. His memories of his prolific life in the entertainment industry were replaced with an empty void and frustrating confusion.
Peter Falk had once tried to become a CIA agent as well as a rifleman before he reluctantly decided that maybe being an actor was his intended path. But Falk’s father warned him not to go down that road. He told his son that all he was going to do was – quote – paint your face and make an ass of yourself all of your life.
But Falk persisted in pursuing his dreams. He cared not what his detractors thought. What did they know?
His illustrious career was full of accomplishments that he no doubt took immense pride in. He nominated for two Oscars and appeared in 58 films, but his most notable triumph was appearing in 69 episodes of the program Columbo and its 24 television films.
Falk absolutely loved playing that role. He never once feared becoming typecast and was planning on making more episodes right up to his death. Columbo could certainly be forgetful, but he was a gifted detective. Falk embodied that role for so long that the two eventually merged together. Peter Falk was Columbo, but his Alzheimer’s took that away from him. It robbed him of one of the very cornerstones of his identity. Join Facts Verse to learn more about the The Tragic Final Years of Peter Falk (Columbo) while fighting with Alzheimer’s.
Falk’s Difficult Relationships With Women
While Columbo had a fondness for chewing on cigars and enjoying the company of his beloved Basset hound, in real life, Falk drawn to far more damaging vices. He drank like a fish and smoked like a chimney. Peter Falk loved partying with his friends and known to quite the womanizer.
He was a neglectful spouse and an absent father. Yet still, somehow he managed to become one of the most iconic celebrities of his era.
Falk dated his college sweetheart Alyce Mayo for 12 years before the two tied the knot in 1960, but after they wed he didn’t blink before he started cheating on her. He was a shameless playboy who felt like women everywhere owed him something.
On almost every movie set that he was on, he was chasing another woman. Alyce tended to turn a blind eye to his infidelity but it had to have hurt her tremendously. Eventually, she decided that enough was enough and filed for divorce in 1976. Just a year later, Falk got married to his mistress, Shera Danese, an actress that was 22 years younger than he was. Join Facts Verse to learn more about the The Tragic Final Years of Peter Falk (Columbo) while fighting with Alzheimer’s.
Peter And Shera’s Marriage Wasn’t A Fairy Tale Romance Either
Falk first saw Shera when she was walking in Philadelphia a few years earlier. He literally chased her down the street begging her for a date. At first, she disinterested in his advances, but Falk kept pestering her until she conceded to having a drink with him.
Throughout his second marriage, Falk continued to cheat with no remorse. And of course, as they say, if you play with fire, eventually you’re going to get burnt.
Falk and Shera known throughout Hollywood as the ‘Fighting Falks’. They were always aggressively at odds with each other; constantly arguing, breaking up, and then getting back together again. It was a vicious cycle that no one took pleasure in seeing repeat itself.
Somehow, their marriage survived 32 years and two divorce filings. They stayed together right up until Falk’s death but Shera later admitted that their life together was no walk in the park. They had plenty of problems and on many occasions. Peter and Shera almost called it quits, but they made some concessions and learned to accept each other for the good as well as all of the bad.
Still, not even Shera was able to tame Falk’s unbridled spirit. He was a reveler who thrived on being around other guys, drinking beer, playing pool, and getting into trouble. It was in his blood. He was never happier than when he was out drinking with his buddies. That’s what he lived for. Join Facts Verse to learn more about the The Tragic Final Years of Peter Falk (Columbo) while fighting with Alzheimer’s.
Falk Was Not The First Choice For The Role Of Columbo
It’s impossible to imagine what Columbo would have looked like without Falk. But surprisingly he was not the show’s producer’s first pick for the role.
The part had originally been created for the stage by Thomas Mitchel, the actor who played Vivien Leigh’s father in Gone With The Wind but unfortunately, he died before the TV movie had entered into production.
The producers then set their sights on Bing Crosby. But reportedly he was much too busy playing golf at the time to commit himself to a TV series. Lee J Cobb of On The Waterfront was also considered for the role but also turned it down.
Even Falk took some convincing before signing the contract. He really didn’t want to be tied down to the grind of being on a series, but he had just been robbed of $100,000 by his shady former manager and needed the cash, so he took the gig to ease some of his financial woes.
Hey, before we move on, take a second to show us a little support by giving this video a like and by subscribing to Facts Verse. And don’t go anywhere just yet, stick around to learn how Peter Falk overcame multiple roadblocks that almost put an end to his career as an actor. Join Facts Verse to learn more about the The Tragic Final Years of Peter Falk (Columbo) while fighting with Alzheimer’s.
He Wasn’t Your Average Actor
Falk wasn’t your typical Hollywood star. He was just shy of 5’6”, had a glass right eye (the result of surgery he had at the age of three to remove a malignant tumor), and lacked the chiseled good looks of a typical Hollywood leading man.
Although he had performed in school plays, Falk didn’t really start focusing professionally on acting until he was 29. He was the son of wealthy parents and spent several years of his youth drifting around in search of adventure.
He really had his sights on becoming a CIA spy at one point, but he had worked building railroads in Communist Yugoslavia for six months so that didn’t necessarily look great on his application – plus there was the matter of his glass eye. The CIA basically laughed him out of the building.
Since he couldn’t be an agent or a rifleman like he really wanted, he decided to join the merchant marines instead but he ended up hating it. He then worked as an efficiency expert for the Budget Bureau in Connecticut.
After growing tired of that line of work as well, Falk then shifted his focus to acting, but his agent cautioned him that with only one eye he would never make it to Hollywood. Join Facts Verse to learn more about the The Tragic Final Years of Peter Falk (Columbo) while fighting with Alzheimer’s.
Falk Persisted Despite Opposition
Columbia Pictures rejected his first screen test when he auditioned to be in Murder By Death in 1976. The studios chief executive Harry Cohn brushed him off by saying that for the same price he could get an actor with two eyes.
But despite that setback, Falk became a Broadway star and once in Hollywood, he earned two Oscar Nods for his first major role in the 1960 gangster flick Murder, Inc and for his follow-up role in the dramatic comedy Pocketful of Miracles in 1961.
He then appeared in films like Robin and the Seven Hoods and The Great Race but started to get the feeling that perhaps his film career was beginning to stall, but then he was offered the role of his life as homicide detective Lieutenant Frank Columbo in 1968. Falk actually provided his own wardrobe, donning the same dingy brown suit and trench coat in every episode.
Falk purchased the raincoat at a second-hand store and it used to bug the living hell out of everyone on set because it had the tendency to make a lot of noise in the middle of shooting scenes. It produced this distinct ruffling sound that couldn’t be silenced. Join Facts Verse to learn more about the The Tragic Final Years of Peter Falk (Columbo) while fighting with Alzheimer’s.
Falk quickly became the highest-paid TV star on the tube, taking in a cool 500k per episode by the final season but he always found acting to be particularly challenging work. He once confessed that acting had never been a fun job for him. Creating was hard, but success inevitably went to his head he became completely obsessed with controlling over every role.
His almost neurotic approach to performing made it especially difficult for TV and Movie directors to work with him. Falk would argue over every single line and camera angle. It was a lot for anyone to deal with.
A lot of major studios back In the day wouldn’t greenlight any project that had Peter’s name connected to it. By that point, he had already burned too many bridges and had earned the reputation of being a pariah of sorts by many producers.
Falk used his role as Columbo to springboard his way into films like The In-Laws, Wings of Desire, and The Princess Bride, but he never desired to stop making Columbo movies. But sadly, his 2003 feature proved to be his last. Join Facts Verse to learn more about the The Tragic Final Years of Peter Falk (Columbo) while fighting with Alzheimer’s.
Peter Falk’s Difficult Final Years
In 2006, Falk’s memory began to fade with a quickness. While Columbo was always known to be forgetful, this was different.
He had become quite unhappy and that sped up his cognitive decline. After having dental surgery and hip surgery the anesthesia seemed to exacerbate his Alzheimer’s. He was never quite the same again.
As Falk’s mind continued to disintegrate, his second wife Shera battled with his adopted daughter Catherine over control of his care and assets.
Catherine tried to argue that she and he sister Jackie had been barred from being able to visit their father for months, alleging that Shera would slam the door on them whenever they came to see him.
Catherine also accused Shera of elder abuse but the judge didn’t seem to agree with her. He ultimately awarded Shera full conservatorship and limited Catherine and her sister’s visits to just 30 minutes twice a week.
It was a sad sight to see witnessing a once passionate and vibrant man crumble before our very eyes. Alzheimer’s is a cruel, calloused, and merciless disease.
When Falk finally died in 2011, Catherine only learned of her father’s passing from the media and was banned from attending his funeral. She described that experience as being ‘absolutely devastating’.
Falk left the majority of his finances to his widow Shera.
Despite all of his flaws – and they were many. Falk loved what he did for a living. He loved being Columbo, thrived on gallivanting around the world wooing women and addressing his legion of adoring fans. But in the end, he couldn’t remember any of it.
What a tragic ending to such a glorious life.
Well, we’ve said what we’ve said, now it’s your turn to let your voice be heard. In the comments section below let us know what your favorite episode of Columbo was.
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