Falk has done lots of parts, including a great turn in the epically hilarious The In-Laws (the one with Alan Arkin, not the bullshit remake with Albert Brooks and Michael Douglas). But he is best known as Columbo, one of the greatest crime fiction creations ever.
I love mysteries. Mysteries are probably the greatest medium for examining human nature. You see people pushed to the brink, doing things they would never do, or fighting temptation they didn't know they had the strength to resist. Everybody has SOMETHING they would rather not have the world know, and mysteries push that anxiety right to the surface. Because of their access to the human psyche, mysteries can teach people about how others live, how they think. In the right hands, mysteries can be that mile in another's shoes most people normally wouldn't bother to make.
There were two things that made Columbo unique. The first was the structure, which spun the popular whodunnit on its head. From the beginning, you knew who did it and how. The question was, how was Columbo going to catch him? He was actually more of a secondary character to the villain, trying desperately to keep everything from unraveling on him. But the second thing that made Columbo unique was his regular person quality. Columbo shared a lot in common with Jim Rockford, the working man detective. But while Rockford was the detective as Everyman, Columbo was the detective as Anyman. No flashy car, no big promotions in the department, stain on his tie, villains would dismiss him as some clown until they realized the amazing mind lurking beneath the surface. By then, it was too late.
Columbo was all of us. Even Peter Falk, who was once dismissed from an audition because of his glass eye. The producer supposedly said, "For that price, I can get an actor with two good eyes!" We are all excluded by someone, and harbor the fantasy of our real worth not only showing through, but showing why we shouldn't have been dismissed. That's Columbo.
Rest well, Detective. Rest well.