Peter Falk

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Sure, he was famous as Lieutenant Columbo (no first name), the grizzled police detective who taught 35 years' worth of snooty killers that however crafty they thought they were, he was smarter. Every encounter on Columbo--which began with the 1968 TV movie Prescription: Murder and kept going until 2003--was a class struggle, played as a comedy of manners and won by the wily proletarian. But Peter Falk, who died June 23 at 83 in Beverly Hills, Calif., was also an important, endearing figure in American films. In mainstream fare like The In-Laws and in John Cassavetes' indie psychodramas Husbands and A Woman Under the Influence, he personified the heroic mensch: the best of us on our worst day.

Sporting a glass eye because of a childhood disease, Falk got a master's in public administration from Syracuse before hitting Broadway and the infant TV medium in the '50s. He rose from playing comic gangster underlings to star status thanks in part to Neil Simon plays (The Prisoner of Second Avenue) and movies (The Cheap Detective). But Falk may be most cherished for two 1987 supporting roles: the gruff ex-angel in Wim Wenders' Wings of Desire and the fable-telling grandpa in The Princess Bride. Even today, we'd love to hear just one more thing from Peter Falk.