Guest star / Tribute

The Columbo stars we lost in 2018

Columbo stars passed away 2018

While 2018 was something of a memorable year for Columbo fans, not least in part to the 50th anniversary of the airing of Prescription: Murder, it did not pass without some sad moments – notably the loss of a number of cherished guest stars and contributors.

It’s a sad duty of mine at this time of year to remember the Columbo stars we lost over the past 12 months, and briefly chronicle what they brought to the show and to the wider film and entertainment industry.

From iconic writers and award-winning editors to gifted composers and character actors, the following is a brief tribute to the Columbo fallen of 2018. May they continue to live long in our memories…

NB – it’s entirely possible I’ve missed the passing of other Columbo contributors, so please let me know if there are others I should include.

Bradford Dillman, died 16 January, aged 87

Greenhouse_Tony_money

Bradford Dillman: delightfully good as the dim-witted Tony Goodland

A versatile star of stage, screen and TV, Bradford Dillman is best known to Columbo fans as imbecilic floppy-haired victim Tony Goodland in Greenhouse Jungle – a cracking performance from Dillman, who really nailed the self-centred vacuity of the deeply flawed ‘wife-ridden weakling’ gunned down by Ray Milland’s Jarvis Goodland.

Dillman’s film credits include The Way We Were, The Enforcer, Escape from the Planet of the Apes and the 1959 crime drama classic Compulsion. Like many other Columbo alumni, he also starred in such TV shows as Mission Impossible, Wild Wild West and The Mary Tyler Moore Show. He passed away in Santa Barbara, California, due to complications caused by pneumonia.

Louise Latham, died 12 February, aged 95

Exposure 11

Louise starred as the wife of murder victim Vic Morris in 1973’s sublime Double Exposure, but in a career spanning 5 decades she clocked up well over 100 acting credits on the large and small screen.

Her big break came in 1964 when she was cast as the manipulative mother of Tippi Hedren’s titular character in Hitchcok’s Marnie. Other film credits include The Sugarland Express, Mass Appeal, Love Field, Firecreek, The Philadelphia Experiment and Paradisewhile she also appeared in such TV shows as The Waltons, Quincy, Kojak, The Six Million Dollar Man, ER and The X Files.

Louise died at a retirement home in Casa Dorinda, California, in February of natural causes.

Edward M Abroms, died 13 February, aged 82

Edward Abroms

An Oscar-nominated film editor, Ed Abroms contributed to Columbo as both an editor and director – and was one of show creators Richard Levinson and William Link’s most trusted off-camera lieutenants.

Employed at Universal largely as an editor, and one who was known for his gift for arresting optical effects, Abroms edited Ransom for a Dead Man, Death Lends a Hand and Lady in Waiting in 1971 – making him the man responsible for legendary sequences as the montage-on-glasses scene from Death Lends a Hand, and the surreal Beth Chadwick murderous daydream from Lady in Waiting.

Levinson and Link were so grateful to Abroms that they gave him directorial reins for Season 1’s Short Fuse, and he was said to be the only director that season that brought an episode in on schedule. He would later return to direct The Most Dangerous Match in Season 2 (overseeing the bonkers psychedelic chess nightmare opening sequence) and performed editing duties years later on Rest in Peace Mrs Columbo in 1990.

On the big screen, he edited (amongst others) Steven Spielberg’s Sugarland Express in 1974 and Jean-Claude Van Damme vehicle Street Fighter in 1994 – quite a variation! His Oscar nomination came for his work on 1983 blockbuster Blue Thunder, although he didn’t scoop the statuette. He did, however, win a 1972 Emmy for his editing work on Columbo. Abroms died of heart failure in February.

Death Lends a Hand

Edward Abroms’ innovative editing techniques graced Death Lends a Hand

Stephen Bochco, died 1 April, aged 74

April 1 2018 struck a sombre note for Columbo fans with news that Steven Bochco had died at the age of 74 after a long battle with leukemia.

Bochco’s considerable contribution to Columbo, which commenced in 1971 when he wrote Season 1’s opening episode Murder by the Book at the age of 27. In collaboration with rookie director Steven Spielberg, Bochco created a story that stands the test of time better than almost any other Columbo episode, setting a standard of interaction and confrontation between the Lieutenant and his quarry (in this case Jack Cassidy’s Ken Franklin) that was rarely bested in the show’s 35-year run.

Steven Bochco

For this, he was nominated for an ‘Outstanding Writing Achievement in Drama’ Emmy in 1972, although he didn’t win. He went home empty handed a year later, too, after receiving a nomination for his work on Columbo Season 2 opener Etude in Black.

Bochco’s Columbo legacy is strong. He also contributed the teleplay to Lady in Waiting and Blueprint for Murder from Columbo’s first season and as well as Etude, he also wrote the teleplay for Season 2’s Double Shock and Season 3’s Mind Over Mayhem. His final outing in Columbo colours came in 1990, Uneasy Lies the Crown rekindled a story idea he’d originally come up with in the 70s.

Bochco is best known for creating Hill Street Blues and NYPD Blue – shows that won him multiple Emmy Awards – while he also co-created the likes of LA Law, Doogie Howser MD and Murder One. As such he is regarded as one of the most innovative and celebrated TV writers and producers of modern times.

Tim O’Connor, died 5 April, aged 90

Tim O'Connor 2A two-time Columbo guest star, O’Connor popped up as crooked lawyer Michael Hathaway in Double Shock in 1973, and again as murder victim Edward Lytton in Old Fashioned Murder three years later.

With more than 100 credits to his name, this versatile character actor starred in popular TV shows galore, including Dynasty, The Outer Limits, Wonder Woman, The Dukes of Hazzard, Barnaby Jones and M*A*S*H*. He is perhaps best known for his roles in Buck Rogers in the 25th Century and Peyton Place – clocking up more than 400 appearances in the latter.

O’Connor died at home in Nevada City, California. No cause of death has been given.

Chuck McCann, died 8 April, aged 83

Columbo Chuck McCannA children’s TV show host in the 1960s before creaking into more serious acting roles in the 1970s, Chuck McCann is beloved by many Columbo fans for his turn as lovable lug Roger White in Double Exposure – the film projectionist who bought the farm after foolishly attempting to blackmail bad Bart Keppell.

A prolific voice-over actor, McCann gave voice to characters on children’s favourites including Duck Tales, The Powerpuff Girls and Garfield and Friends, and was also a talented puppeteer and Laurel and Hardy impersonator. His ‘I’m cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs!’ line from the iconic series of TV commercials has served to immortalise him for generations of US breakfast cereal eaters.

Chuck died of congestive heart failure in Los Angeles.

Vincent McEveety, died 19 May, aged 88

Columbo Vincent McEveetyA prolific film and TV producer and director in the 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s, McEveety was in the directorial hot seat for seven Columbo episodes from 1990 to 1997: Rest in Peace, Mrs Columbo; Death Hits the Jackpot; A Bird in the Hand; It’s All in the Game; Undercover; Strange Bedfellows and A Trace of Murder.

A regular Disney director, McEveety also helmed family favourites including Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo, Herbie Goes Bananas and The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again. No cause of death has been given.

Patrick Williams, died 25 July, aged 79

Patrick WilliamsA gifted and versatile composer, beloved by Frank Sinatra, Williams scored more than 150 TV shows, films and theatrical outings, earning dozens of accolades, including Oscar nominations, Emmy Awards and Grammies.

His Columbo contributions came in Season 7, with Williams scoring popular episodes Try & Catch Me and How to Dial a Murder. He even earned one of his 21 Emmy Award nominations for his work on Try & Catch Me, although didn’t scoop the top prize.

Among his cinematic scores was The Cheap Detective from 1979 – starring Peter Falk in the title role. Williams died of complications caused by cancer at St. John’s Hospital in Santa Monica, California.

Celeste Yarnall, died October 7, aged 74

Yarnall.jpgA veteran of dozens of TV shows, particularly in the 1960s and 70s, the striking Celeste Yarnall graced the likes of Star Trek, Hogan’s Heroes, Wild Wild West and Bewitched in a career that spanned six decades.

Her Columbo role was fleeting (and I can’t even find an image), but Celeste is credited as ‘Gloria’ in 1971’s Ransom for a Dead Man. If anyone has a screen shot of her, please send it through.

Celeste died at Westlake Village, California at the age of 74. She had been suffering from ovarian cancer since 2014.

Ken Swofford, died 1 November, aged 85

Candidate 2

Although cast as the hugely aggressive and unlikable murder victim Harry Stone in 1973’s Candidate for Crime, Ken Swofford was, by all accounts, a lovely chap who amassed more than 120 acting credits over a career stretching from the early 1960s to the 2000s.

On the small screen, he appeared notably as Frank Flanagan in Ellery Queen in 1975-76 and also as Vice Principal Quentin Morloch for three seasons on the TV adaptation of FAME in the 1980s. He also cropped up in a plethora of popular shows including Baywatch, The Rockford Files, Six Million Dollar Man, Knight Rider, Murder, She Wrote and Dallas.

On the big screen, Swofford appeared in such hits as The Andromeda Strain, Annie and Thelma and Louise. He died at home at his long-time residence in Pacific Grove, California, with his wife of 58 years, Barbee, and family by his side.

Donald Moffat, died 20 December, aged 87

Donald Moffat Columbo

A regular on the big screen and on Broadway, Moffat is perhaps best known for starring as the sinister President Bennett, alongside Harrison Ford, in 1994’s Clear and Present Danger. He also starred in legendary 1982 cult horror flick The Thing, directed by John Carpenter.

His Columbo pedigree is less well known, but Moffat starred as Sheldon Hays in the little-loved 1992 outing No Time to Die – an episode I admittedly haven’t watched for many years, and did not recall him appearing in.

Moffat died on at home in Sleepy Hollow, New York, following complications caused by a recent stroke.


I leave you with the same sentiment I do every year when I write an article of this type: with the pool of Columbo guest stars ever diminishing, we must remember to treasure those still with us while we can.

Thanks as ever for reading, and here’s wishing Columbo fans everywhere a terrific, fun and memorable 2019.

You can read a review of the Columbo year that was right here.

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29 thoughts on “The Columbo stars we lost in 2018

  1. There are other sites and appreciations of Columbo, but they don’t respect the great work of the past (and passed) performers as does Columbophile. I am hooked.

  2. Thanks for the note about James Frawley, who died a couple days ago. Most of his Columbo episodes have good, compelling musical scores: Abigail Mitchell’s icy theme. Kay Freestone’s ticking timer. Alex Brady’s giddy waltz. The steamy 80’s jazz betraying Dr Joan Allenby. They’re usually pretty evocative in that way.

    Mr Frawley also worked in front of the camera. He was the District Attorney when Perry Mason was in Hawaii, and he played a union organizer on the Dick Van Dyke show. One of his more unusual appearances was as the hitman in Make Me a Perfect Murder.

    He can also be seen in the packaging for Columbo seasons 6 & 7 (both of them in the same box– there’s only 8 episodes). Not sure what they’re called– “DVD cases”? Each one has the same 4 pictures from the show, actually 3– Columbo with Mariette Hartley in her belly-dancing outfit, one with Clive Revill from The Conspirators, one I don’t recognize– and this photo where apparently they mistook Frawley for Peter Falk, and show him directing Miss Ruth. (He’s at least 4 inches taller than the Lieutenant.) It’s actually a nice little glimpse into the artists at work.

  3. All of the murderers/actors in the new episodes 1989 – columbo likes the nightlife forget was it 2003 I think are still alive be it ageing except for Patrick McGoohan agenda for murder and ashes to ashes 1998 , he was much older by this stage as he had played 2 from the 70s by dawns early light and identity crisis , identity crisis is my favourite out of these 4 and ashes to ashes the least although he was good in agenda for murder which was much better than ashes to ashes .

  4. Thank you for this very informative post – especially the entry about Edward Abroms taught me a lot. I also remember very well the lights in Leslie’s eyes turning into car lights at the beginning of “Ransom…” – this is still great editing which sends shivers down my spine.
    To me, Donald Moffat as Melissa’s father was the only good/likeable character in NTTD – an otherwise dreadful episode, the worst of them all by far. I was unable to fall asleep easily for a few days after watching it, I still remember the batty protagonist and I won’t watch it again. Stupid I can bear, but psychos are not for me.
    Concerning Steven Bochco, I adored “Doogie Howser MD” – I watched it when I was a child! I had no idea that Bochco had worked on it.
    Finally, I have a question to the Author: if that’s not a secret, how do you obtain information on the death of Columbo actors/contributors? Do you have a list of them all and check regularly or what? I can’t imagine how this can be done without browsing the Internet for hours, which is probably not what you do as you raise two little Columbos…
    May 2019 be another successful year to you and all the readers here!

    • Hi Eleonora, thanks for the comment! I just keep my eyes and ears open for any Columbo tidings, good and bad, via social media channels. Some of the deaths are high profile enough to be world news, but for some of the lesser-known contributors I often get a tip-off from contacts on Twitter.

  5. Happy new year columbophile , always a sad affair when we lose columbo stars especially from the 70s run as they were such good episodes and great actors and actresses. on the same note sir billy Connolly who played finlay crawford in the new episode murder with too many notes ( although one of my least favorite episodes he put in a good performance) has parkinsons disease and is not expecting to live too many more years.

  6. Colombo, has been my all time detective series. I have seen every one of the episodes at least twice. I really miss them and of course Peter Falk.

  7. Darn these were some great Columbo guests, two from my favorite episode Double Exposure. Whenever i see an actor big or small from the 70’s series i always recognize them, my wife just rolls her eyes. Seems like they all had a long and good life.Great post from a really good website, Cheers!

  8. “with the pool of Columbo guest stars ever diminishing, we must remember to treasure those still with us while we can.”

    The most important take-away from this post. Thank you.

  9. Thx for another great post. There’s just something about the Lt and his little time machine to the 70’s. Dale Kingston’s frilly sleeves sticking out of his velvet jacket. (That must have been a gorgeous cufflink. Probably with “DK” worked into it.)

  10. I don’t post here very often but am an avid fan of Columbo and your website, and thank you so very much for everything you do to keep the legacy going.

    Your article today really hits home for me. We lost our dad on January 7th and mom on December 23rd – Dad died the first week of the year, and Mom the last. It’s been insane. But I want to share that in searching my phone to see my last text from Mom, I had checked in with her one evening a few days before she passed away and asked her what she was doing. Her last text was, “of course I’m watching Columbo!”

    Towards the end, we spent many nights watching the show and I’ll always cherish these memories. So, thank you again 😘

  11. I truly appreciate your time and tributes. I usually watch the show with my phone nearby to google who’s who and if they are still with us. Thank you and happy new year!

  12. English is not my first language but I understand clearly your writings. However, what do you mean when you refer to Jack Cassidy’s Ken Franklin as Lieutenant’s quarry. I couldn’t find an appropiate explanation in the dictionary to the word quarry in this case.

  13. Aww…thanks for yet another stellar post. A lot of Columbo casualties last year indeed! May they all rest in peace.

  14. Thank you for bringing the memories of these fine actors in their respective Columbo roles. Losing some of them is like losing an old friend. Rest in peace to all.

  15. Great memories. Thanks. Just one technical note. I think it would have been better if you placed the pictures at the sides of the piece, rather than below. It appears as though each photo belongs to the next piece.

      • You are correct. It is only when I view it in my email that the arrangement is messed up. It’s all fine at the site. Anyways, just trying to make sure that a great site remains as perfect as possible. Have a wonderful new year (hopefully filled with many more great articles).

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