By Bob Tourtellotte
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Peter Falk, an Emmy winning actor who played the absent-minded but shrewd police detective Columbo on hit 1970s television show "Columbo," has died, a family attorney said Friday.
"Peter Falk, 83 year-old Academy Award nominee and star of television series, Columbo, died peacefully at his Beverly Hills home in the evening of June 23, 2011," said a statement issued by the attorney.
Like many actors of his generation, Falk began his career on the stage, honing his craft in school, community theater and off Broadway. By the late 1950s he began to star in Broadway productions, and soon made his move to Hollywood.
Falk's breakout film role came with 1960's "Murder, Inc." in the supporting part of a killer among a gang of thugs, but it was his performance on the opposite side of the law -- as police lieutenant Columbo -- that earned Falk superstardom.
As a child, Falk's right eye had been surgically removed due to a malignant tumor, and it was replaced with a glass eye. That handicap became, perhaps, the actor's major asset and physical trademark as the star of "Columbo" because it only enhanced the detective's image as a disheveled and oddball crime sleuth.
But the homicide-chasing cop's probing questions always caused the murderer to reveal his true self and Columbo caught the villain. The show became a smash hit after its debut in 1971. It continued playing on TV for many years and even spawned several TV movies later in the actor's life.
Falk is survived by his wife, Shera, of 34 years and two daughters from a previous marriage.
(Additional reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis and Steve Gorman, Editing by Sandra Maler)