He may not have had the highest profile or have played a major role, but Bruce Kirby was nevertheless Columbo royalty. His passing at the age of 95 is a blow for fans still reeling from the loss of William Link at the end of 2020.
Although no cause of death has been announced, Kirby’s son John confirmed via Facebook that his father died on Sunday, January 24 at the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.
Born in New York City in 1925, Kirby’s career kicked off in the 1950s with guest appearances on The Phil Silvers Show and Goodyear Playhouse. He would clock up nearly 150 screen credits before he retired from acting in 2009.
Amongst his many credits were appearances on shows as varied as Murder, She Wrote, LA Law, Punky Brewster, I Dream of Jeannie, Hogan’s Heroes, Ironside, M*A*S*H, Kojak, The Rockford Files, The Sopranos and The West Wing. Kirby also graced the big screen in films including Stand By Me, The Muppet Movie, Throw Mama From the Train and 2006 Best Picture Oscar winner Crash.
However, for Columbo fans Kirby is synonymous with the series having appeared in nine episodes between 1973-1995. His debut was a low-key role as a lab attendant in Lovely but Lethal, but he would go on to play Sergeant George Kramer in By Dawn’s Early Light in 1974 (starring alongside his own son, Bruno Kirby, in the process) – a role that would grant him Columbo immortality.
Sergeant Kramer would go on to appear in five further Columbo outings between 1975 and 1990 (A Deadly State of Mind, Identity Crisis, Last Salute to the Commodore, Columbo Cries Wolf and Agenda for Murder), making him the series’ single most recurring character aside from Columbo and Dog. He would also crop up as a TV repairman in 1978’s Make Me a Perfect Murder and as Detective Sergeant Phil Brindle in 1995’s Strange Bedfellows.
“Sergeant Kramer became the series’ single most recurring character aside from Columbo and Dog.”
While initially demonstrating an amount of impatience with his superior officer’s meandering approach to detecting in By Dawn’s Early Light, Kramer and Columbo would go on to build a solid and mutually respectful relationship. And even if Kramer was a little slower on the uptake than his esteemed colleague, he was an honest and dependable officer whom Columbo could rely on.
Along with Fred Draper, Val Avery, Vito Scotti, John Finnegan and Mike Lally, Kirby was one of the ‘Super Six’ recurring Columbo support stars that helped bring the best out of Peter Falk amongst an ever-changing roster of actors, directors and producers. Between them, the six clocked up at least 60 appearances over many years.
Kirby is survived by wife Roz and son John, while his legacy will continue to live on in the hearts of Columbo fans for decades to come. Rest in Peace, Sarge. You did a great job…