2015 was an interesting year for Columbo fans. As well as the continued popularity of the #ColumboTV social media phenomenon, there was also plenty of high profile talk about the possibility of a Columbo reboot, possibly starring Mark Ruffalo in the title role (my thoughts on that here).
It’s also the year I launched the very blog you’re reading now, and I’ve been genuinely heartened by the positive response from readers. Since its debut in July, the site’s had more than 20,000 views. My sincere thanks to you all!
However, there have also been some sad moments, and that’s what I’m chronicling here. As is to be expected of a show that’s well over 40 years old, a number of much-loved Columbo characters have passed away over the past 12 months. For what it’s worth, here’s a very small tribute to the Columbo legends we lost in 2015.
Leonard Nimoy – died 27 Feb 2015 (age 83)
Legends don’t come much bigger than Nimoy, who is thought of affectionately by a large percentage of the galactic population. Spock may be his most familiar role, but his turn in 1973’s Stitch in Crime also lives long in the memory.
Playing villainous surgeon Dr Barry Mayfield, Nimoy put in an ice-cold performance and played a killer with a total lack of conscience, first attempting to kill his lovable boss with dissolving suture; then smashing in the head of a nurse who figured him out; and finally delivering a fatal drug overdose to a total innocent to cover his tracks.
The first killer that Columbo truly despises, I rate Mayfield as the lowest of the low and baddest of the bad that we ever encounter. Read more about that here. Kudos to Nimoy for striking all the right emotional chords, then, with both viewer and the usually even-tempered Lieutenant Columbo.
Theo Bikel – died 21 July 2015 (age 91)
As chronicled here in a special tribute post, the loss of Theo Bikel in July 2015 felt like a very personal one to me, because he’s the actor that most captivated me when I first watched Columbo in the late 1980s.
His performance as Oliver Brandt in the incomparable Bye-Bye Sky High IQ Murder Case from 1977 really had it all: pomp, vulnerability, regret, resignation. Plus his huge frame, beard and booming voice really set him apart from other Columbo guest stars.
Bye-Bye was the first episode I remember watching and remains my favourite to this day. I feel I owe Bikel a great deal from the pleasure this episode has brought me again and again.
Louis Jourdan – died 14 February 2015 (age 93)
Another of the killers we can really love to hate, French ace Jourdan was perfectly cast as scheming food critic Paul Gerard in 1978’s Murder Under Glass.
His coolly aloof attitude was in delightful contrast to the affable Lieutenant, so it’s little wonder the two were on a collision course from the start. The finale, where Columbo cooks for the critic, who then tries to poison the detective, remains sensational viewing, with the two men revealing their mutual dislike of each other.
It’s perhaps not an absolutely creme de la creme episode, but Jourdan’s Gallic charm helps lift it to higher levels and his downfall is one of the series’ most satisfying.
Martin Milner – died 6 September 2015 (age 83)
In the role of likable mystery writer Jim Ferris – partner to Jack Cassidy’s dastardly Ken Franklin – in Murder by the Book, Milner brought an immense warmth to his short appearance as the murder victim.
A good man, who loved his work and his wife, and felt a great responsibility towards his partner that wasn’t returned, we can really feel for Jim when he gets gunned down – all credit to Milner’s natural affability.
Robert Loggia – died 4 December 2015 (age 85)
A supreme talent, who would grace the likes of Scarface, Big and Independence Day, Loggia also made an impact in 1976’s Now You See Him alongside Jack Cassidy’s Great Santini.
Although a small role, as Harry Blandford, the club maitre’d and business partner to the murdered Jerome K Jerome, Loggia had some fine scenes and his surly attitude towards Santini, and his disdainful look, at the episode’s denouement are worth a million dollars.
Patrick Macnee – died 25 June 2015 (age 93)
The quintessentially English Macnee was cast as Captain Gibbon, head of a quintessentially English crew of the cruise ship in Troubled Waters in 1975.
His remit may have been little more than ‘be as English as possible’, and none do that better than the Avengers star, whose clipped accent and perfect pronunciation make for a splendid contrast to Columbo’s Noo Yoik drawl.
So while we’ve lost a number of great Columbo guest stars in 2015 (and other, smaller characters not chronicled here), there are, happily, a good number still with us, notably legends such as William Shatner, George Hamilton, Robert Vaughan and Lee Grant.
We must remember to treasure them while we still have them.
Here’s hoping 2016 is a vintage year for us all.