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Thanks a lot, Sarge: RIP Bruce Kirby

Columbo Bruce Kirby
Columbo royalty: Bruce Kirby appeared in nine episodes between 1973-95

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.

Kramer and Columbo on the case in 1990’s Agenda for Murder

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.

Sergeant Kramer in A Deadly State of Mind

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…

In memory of Bruce Kirby, 1925-2021
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14 thoughts on “Thanks a lot, Sarge: RIP Bruce Kirby

  1. Pingback: Thanks a lot, Sarge: RIP Bruce Kirby – Lt. Columbo

  2. Rest in peace, Mr. Kirby! Wonderful character actor with so many great credits to his name. Besides Columbo, I loved him on MASH and Stand By Me. He’s now with his son Bruno in that great movie studio in the sky!

    • Very cold here in the UK and still very much in lockdown and also still no review of goes to college but if you are planning on staying in ,5USAs here’s todays marathon

      9am Identity Crisis ( star pick)
      11 am How to dial a murder
      1235 a bird in the hand
      2.30 A friend in deed ( star pick)
      4.30 Publish or perish (star pick)
      600 Old fashioned murder
      735 Short fuse
      900 Grand deceptions

      oh well not a bad line up , I love identity crisis with mc goohan leslie Nielsen and Kirby and I like how to dial a murder more than most I think its a tad underrated and
      obviously publish or perish which as good as it is i dont quite enjoy it as much as most give it it credit for but it still comes highly recommended,
      easily the least recommendable are the last 3 episodes particulary old fashioned murder and grand deceptions which might at least cure my insomnia .

  3. Why Det. Sgt. Phil Brindle in “Strange Bedfellows”? Playing a non-police role is one thing, but a detective sergeant other than George Kramer? Perhaps the explanation is in the episode — but that would require watching “Strange Bedfellows.”

  4. Sad news. A good tribute there. Bruce Kirby was the last of the surviving regular bit part players on Columbo so his death marks the end of an era.

    • More sad news I enjoyed all his roles particulary in Identity crisis at the start and I know cp doesn’t rate the scene in Sinbad’s bar where columbo is distracted by the belly dancer but I find it quite funny and not overlong
      I believe his biggest role might Have been in Last salute to the commodore but the episode is drivel , I also like the scene in make me a perfect murder when columbo goes to pick up his tv with dog .

  5. Didn’t Kirby play the tv repair engineer who becomes exasperated at Columbo’s continual insistence that his Bassett can enjoy watching tv, “he hasn’t seen anything yet he didn’t like” ? (Sorry, can’t recall episode.)

  6. Bruce Kirby, thanks for your career of characters…”By Dawn’s Early Light” was broadcast this week. Was that the only time Bruce Kirby and son Bruno were in the same cast?

  7. Watching Bruno Kirby’s performances in Columbo I got the impression that beneath the dead-pan exterior Kramer was thinking ‘What the hell is this guy doing?’ at Columbo’s offbeat approach to police work, but something told him to be patient because he knew Columbo got results. A solid character actor who added much to the episodes he worked on, and a significant part of the ‘Columbo’ story. Sad news.


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