Columbo’s Final Years: How Trip to the Dentist May Have Brought Peter Falk Closer to Death
Peter Falk is a legendary actor best known for his role as Columbo.He poured his heart into his craft for years, filming one episode longer than other shows.Falk was diagnosed with dementia in 2008, brought on by Alzheimer’s, before dying in June 2011.
Peter Michael Falk was born on September 16, 1927, in New York City, New York. His eye was surgically removed after a cancer diagnosis when he was only three.Unlike many of his peers, Falk didn’t want to become an actor from the start. Before switching careers, he was a certified public accountant and worked as an efficiency expert at the Budget Bureau of Connecticut.
When he decided to make the switch, Falk studied acting with Eva Le Gallienne and Sanford Meisner. Opportunities started pouring in for him, and in 1971, he got his most famous role as Detective Columbo in the TV series of the same name.
“Columbo” ran from 1971 to 1978 and was a successful show. It led him to fame, being recognized everywhere because of his iconic role.People in the industry knew him as a perfectionist. It took him much longer to do one episode, particularly as much time as other shows filmed six episodes.
Unfortunately, his perfectionism and dedication to the craft cost him his 15-year marriage to Alyce Mayo, his first wife and the mom of his two daughters, Jackie and Catherine.
At the time, Falk worked 12 hours a day, including Saturdays and Sundays. The long hours took a toll on their marriage, and he paid Alyce a $1,500,000 settlement after their divorce.Shortly after separating from his first wife, he began dating a young dancer and beauty queen named Shera Danese. They got married in 1977 and remained together until 2011.
Falk Was Diagnosed with DementiaIn 2008, Falk’s daughter Catherine revealed the actor had Alzheimer’s disease. She petitioned at the Los Angeles Superior Court to become her dad’s legal guardian or conservator.
In the documents, Catherine implied that her dad could no longer care for himself and needed full-time custodial care. In addition, she claimed he is no longer in the right mind to protect himself from “fraud or undue influence.”
Falk lived in Beverly Hills with his second wife at the time of the petition. They were in the middle of a bitter family feud, with Catherine accusing Danese of prohibiting people from visiting Falk. The concerned daughter believed her dad wasn’t getting the proper care in the hands of Danese.
Months before her petition, the actor suffered a head injury after losing control of his car and crashing into a building. He was also photographed acting strangely in front of paparazzi near his Beverly Hills home. Concerned witnesses called 911 to get police to the scene, but Falk shrugged them off and said he was going for a walk.
His Alzheimer’s diagnosis was further complicated by his being diagnosed with dementia. This complication reportedly arose after a series of dental operations in late 2007.
By 2009, Falk could no longer remember “Columbo,” the role that shot him to fame. He behaved erratically and could no longer remember important people, places, and memories.
When Catherine took her stepmom to court, Danese argued that she provided her husband with all the care he needed to live comfortably. They turned their guesthouse into an art studio and living quarters for the actor, who had daily round-the-clock care and personal meals cooked by Danese.
Danese was doing her role as a wife, caregiver, and keeper of the actor’s estate. As such, Falk designated her as his caregiver in 2005, when his health began to slowly deteriorate.
Amidst the court filings by his daughter, there was more to the family issue than what met the eye. In 1992, Catherine filed a lawsuit against her father after he stopped paying for her college fees.Catherine eventually dropped the lawsuit, and they settled out of court. Since then, their relationship was reportedly never the same as it used to be.
Before people could accuse her of being a money-seeking daughter, Catherine spoke out about the issue, pinning it on her stepmom. She once said:
“I think that most people feel that I am this money-grubbing daughter, that I’m just going after my dad to get money. My father was married to a woman that made it really difficult for my father to feel free. We weren’t allowed to go to his house.”
Danese argued that Falk never had a close relationship with his daughter. Her lawyer used the actor’s diary to show how he never mentioned Catherine, implying that he didn’t think much of their relationship as father and daughter.
Eventually, the court denied Catherine’s request to become her dad’s conservator and granted her a thirty-minute visit every other month. Danese also accused her of having ill intentions toward her father’s estate.After filing the petition to become her dad’s conservator, things worsened when she was not invited to her father’s funeral. When Peter Falk died on June 23, 2011, it wasn’t until hours later that Catherine found out.
Ironically, she did not find out from any immediate family and instead heard it from the media and their family attorney. “I haven’t been able to grieve my dad’s passing because I’ve been filled with so much emotion, so much sadness, so much pain,” she said.
Through her lawyer, she kept contacting Danese’s attorney to ask about funeral details. The only response she ever got was: “Peter’s final resting place is only about Peter, not Catherine, his estranged adopted daughter.”Falk rests at the Westwood Memorial Park. It is a famous cemetery where several of his fellow celebrities are also buried.