The Columbo stars we lost in 2019

Columbo star deaths 2019

As another year slides by, it’s my sad duty to pay my appreciation to the Columbo contributors who passed away over the past 12 months.

From writers and directors to the talented actors who brought Columbo alive on the screen, the following is a brief tribute to the Columbo stars we said a permanent farewell to 2019. May they continue to bring us delight in the years ahead every time we pop on the DVD or catch an episode on TV or online.

NB – These are listed chronologically. If I have inadvertently missed anyone off this list, please let me know and I will add them in.

James Frawley (died 22nd Jan, aged 82)

Columbo James Frawley

The director of six episodes, Frawley’s Columbo contribution was a strong one spread over more than a decade and encompassing some of the most popular episodes of the 70s, as well as three of the show’s comeback episodes in 1989.

His Columbo directorial debut came in perennial crowd pleaser Try & Catch Me in 1977, and was followed up up by two further season 7 outings, How to Dial a Murder and Make Me a Perfect Murder – in which he also appeared in the movie-within-the-movie The Professional as the suicidal spy. When the show returned in 1989, Frawley came with it as he helmed Sex & The Married Detective, Murder A Self Portrait and Murder, Smoke & Shadows.

His extensive non-Columbo resume includes shows such as Chicago Hope, The Monkees, Law & Order, Cagney & Lacey, Magnum PI and Grey’s Anatomy. He also directed The Muppet Movie in 1979.

Frawley died of a heart attack at his home in Indian Wells, California.

Jed Allan (died 9th March, aged 84)

Jed Allan Columbo

Known primarily for his work on Beverly Hills 90210, Santa Barbara, General Hospital and Days of Our Lives, Allan made a small appearance as clean cut cop ‘Phil’ in 1971’s Ransom for a Dead Man.

Allan died peacefully at home in Palm Desert, California, surrounded by his family.

Larry Cohen (died 24th March, aged 82)

Columbo Larry Cohen

The prolific producer-writer-director, best-known for directing cult horror classics It’s Alive and The Stuff, and writing Colin Farrell vehicle Phone Booth, also made a strong Columbo contribution and was pally with show creators William Link and Dick Levinson.

He contributed the stories for a trio of the series’ best-loved episodes: Candidate for Crime, Any Old Port in a Storm and An Exercise in Fatality. Fascinatingly, he also claims to have created the story for Murder by the Book – the opening episode of season 1 that is consistently claimed to have been penned by Steven Bochco. Read more about that here.

Cohen died of cancer in Los Angeles, with his family close at hand.

Rip Torn (died 9th July, aged 88)

Columbo Rip Torn

As at home on the stage as he was on the small and large screen, Rip Torn starred in more than 80 movies including Men in Black, Dodgeball, Robocop 3 and Cross Creek – for which he earned a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination in 1984. His TV credits include The Larry Sanders Show (his biggest hit), as well as appearances on the likes of Will & Grace and Chicago Hope.

Torn was cast as murderer Leon Lamarr in 1991’s Death Hits the Jackpot, providing one of the most memorable Columbo killers of the comeback era. He died at his home in Lakeville, Connecticut.

Valerie Harper (died 30 Aug, aged 80)

Columbo Valerie Harper

The passing of the much-loved star of Rhoda and The Mary Tyler Moore Show was received with great sadness in August. The comic actress won four Emmy Awards and a Golden Globe for her role as Rhoda Morgenstern, and had dozens of other TV and film credits to her name.

She played a small but highly memorable role as high-class call girl Eve Babcock in 1972’s The Most Crucial Game – notably telling a nervous Columbo to stop being ‘so Cincinnati.’

In recent years, Harper had struggled with both lung and brain cancer – even being given just three months to live back in 2013. She died at home in Los Angeles.

Rob Garrison (died 27th Sept, aged 59)

Columbo Robert Garrison

Known to a generation of film fans as wicked martial arts practitioner ‘Tommy’ in The Karate Kid, Garrison also had a small role in the Lieutenant’s comeback adventure Columbo Goes to the Guillotine in 1989. Credited only as ‘Young Man’, Garrison can be seen leading a tour around the Anneman Institute, immediatly prior to Columbo’s first meeting with the dastardly Elliott Blake.

Garrison died in hospital in West Virginia due to kidney and liver failure after suffering from alcohol-related illnesses for some time.

Shelley Morrison (died 1st Dec, aged 83)

Columbo Shelley Morrison

Known to millions as El Salvadorian maid Rosario in Will & Grace from 1999-2006, Shelley Morrison enjoyed a 50-plus-year in acting with credits including The Outer Limits, Doctor Kildare, The Flying Nun and Home Improvement.

To Columbo fans, she’ll always be known as the Latina cleaner from 1993’s It’s All in the Game with her repetitive calls of “Ooooooon….. Ooooooooff…” to Columbo when he flips off the circuit breakers at Lauren Staton’s apartment the stuff of legend!

Morrison died at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles from heart failure after a short illness.

Robert Walker Jr (died 6th Dec, aged 79)

Columbo Robert Walker Jr

The son of actors Robert Walker and Jennifer Jones, Robert Walker Jr followed ably in their footsteps clocking up nearly 80 credits in shows as diverse as Star Trek (he was Charlie X), Quincy ME, Bonanza and Dallas.

Columbo fans remember him as Neil Cahill, the oppressed son of Jose Ferrer’s murderous Dr Marshall Cahill, from season 3 episode Mind Over Mayhem. The Lieutenant memorably fits Neil up for the crime in order to draw out his father.

Walker died in Malibu. No cause of death has been officially confirmed.

With the pool of Columbo guest stars ever diminishing and none of them getting any younger (the youngest Columbo killer, Matthew Rhys, is now in his mid-40s), we must remember to appreciate those still with us while we can.

Thanks, as always for reading, and let’s all do our bit to ensure the legacy of those above – and indeed all who have ever graced Columbo – continues to live on.

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Here’s an outfit no Columbo fan could forget. RIP, Rip…
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16 thoughts on “The Columbo stars we lost in 2019

  1. Just learned that Robert Conrad passed, He did a good job as Milo Janis in Exercise in Fatality and like Dr. Barry Mayfield, a killer that really got Columbos blood boiling.

  2. Thank you for the link regarding Larry Cohen and “Murder by the Book.” In Steven Bochco’s Archive of American Television interview about Columbo (, Bochco makes no claim to sole credit for MBTB. He admits that he knew nothing about mystery writing when he took the Columbo job, and gives Levinson and Link much credit for plotting the episode and revising his script. Larry Cohen isn’t mentioned. If Cohen’s claim is true, and Bochco knew of Cohen’s involvement, I see no reason why Bochco wouldn’t say as much. His account is modest to the extreme about MBTB as “his” script.

    • “If Cohen’s claim is true, and Bochco knew”- that second clause is of course crucial. If Cohen had sold the story to Levinson and Link before they brought Bochco on board, I don’t see that they would have had any reason to mention it to Bochco.

  3. Rip Torn’s turn as Leon Lamar was one of the most impressive jobs of acting I’ve ever seen on television. That episode doesn’t really have much more going for it than did the average of the ABC years, but solely on the strength of his performance I rate it 27th overall, one of only four ABC episodes in my top 30 (the other being Murder Can Be Hazardous to Your Health at #14, Agenda for Murder at #22, and Butterfly in Shades of Grey at #30.)

    • I cant agree
      I really cannot find much if any fault with the episode , The chimps fingerprint evidence is very damning , Mr lemmar didnt have any idea about the chimp before committing the murder as Freddie was looking after it as a one off for a neighbor , theres an excellent motive and the funeral and wake scene is very well done , love the song where have all the flowers gone and mostly there is no trashy uncolumbo like stuff that crept into some other new episodes ( except maybe the Italian translation at the funeral but I dont mind that scene ) its pure police work, we also had a fellow detective jack stroller and it ended on a nice note with columbo saying he was going to take his wife on holiday for there anniversary on the whole a very memorable and satisfactory addition to the series and for the record I am not a Fan of butterfly in shades of grey. its not one of the worst new ones but far more forgettable than Death hits the jackpot , agenda or goes to college .and murder can be hazardous to your health which i also like .

  4. Nothing comes close to those episodes.. the plots and the actors were far superior to anything made.. and guess what. Not one swear word. Everything was done with taste and style.

  5. Happy new year columbophile , Very sad post but has to be done , I watched Death hits the Jackpot last Sunday , My favorite new episode , Rip torn really makes this episode , plus its an almost faultless episode , and for me has a memorable ending.

  6. I missed the first Columbo series but i have made up for it by watching it many times, i watch it because of Colombo and his ways, it’s all about the small things. I would hate to have him on my tail.

  7. Thank-you Columbophile for all your good work. Very entertaining and much appreciated.
    Have a good holiday.

  8. Robert Walker gave me nightmares from his Star Trek role as “Charley X”. For those who saw it all I have to say is “Stop Laughing!!!” and that memory comes to the top.

    James Frawley had an incredible resume of work over 58 years. Sad to see him go.

    Rip Torn made a later Columbo a real treat with his over-the-top Leon Lamarr. I’ve come to appreciate this episode and can’t wait to have you review this some-parts-are-so-bad-it’s-brilliant one. Including of course, our favorite slimy funny uncle, Rip Torn, who chases after his like-a-son nephew’s wife and pays $200,000 over bid for outrageous jewelry.

  9. I didn’t catch Frawley’s death who is in my book possibly the greatest Columbo director of them all. Rip Torn is also very sad, love The Larry Sanders Show.

  10. Thanks to all these talented folks. I find Rip Torn devastatingly attractive,though his Uncle character is one of the slimiest killers, in my opinion; killing his young, orphaned nephew for his money.


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