It’s been quite a kind year for Columbo guest stars by recent standards, although several more have made their way up to the big stage in the sky throughout 2022.
As always, I like to take this opportunity to pay a small tribute to these talented actors who did so much to help make Columbo the standout show it remains to this day. May they rest in peace (and fun).
Please note – this article was updated on January 8, 2023, to include several Columbo stars whose passing I had initially missed.
Died February 24, aged 84
In a career lasting more than 60 years, Sally Kellerman remains best known for her portrayal of Major Margaret “Hot Lips” Houlihan in Robert Altman’s classic 1970 film MASH – a role which earned her a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination.
She starred in a number of other Altman directed or produced films, including Brewster McCloud, Ready to Wear, The Player and Welcome to LA. She graced dozens of other motion pictures and was also a familiar face on television throughout her career, appearing in shows as varied as Star Trek, Diagnosis Murder, The Twilight Zone, Bonanza, and The Outer Limits.
Kellerman guest starred alongside Peter Falk and Patrick McGoohan in 1998 Columbo episode Ashes to Ashes, where she was cast as Liz Houston, a recently widowed southern dame who is having a love affair with McGoohan’s Eric Prince.
She died of complications related to dementia at an assisted-living facility in Woodland Hills, California.
Died April 5, aged 102
The epitome of a prolific actor, Jerusalem-born Persoff racked up more than 200 acting credits between 1948 and 2003.
Often cast as either a Rabbi or a gangster, his movie credits include playing Barbra Streisand’s father in Yentl (1983), the voice of Papa Mousekewitz in three An American Tail animated films, a scientist in hit Arnold Schwarzenegger/Danny DeVito comedy Twins, and gangster Little Bonaparte in Some Like it Hot (1959). On the small screen, his many roles included time on The Untouchables, The Twilight Zone, Gunsmoke, Law and Order and Chicago Hope. Columbo fans remember him as villianous blackmailer Jesse Jerome, who falls foul of Jack Cassidy’s Great Santini in 1976 crowd-pleaser Now You See Him.
In his later years, Persoff turned his attention to art, becoming a prolific watercolour painter whose works were exhibited in many Californian venues.
Died April 17, aged 91
A stage, film and TV actor for more than 40 years, Olson is best remembered for starring opposite Joanne Woodward in Oscar-nominated 1968 drama Rachel, Rachel, and playing a surgeon investigating a deadly alien organism in 1971 sci-fi classic The Andromeda Strain.
The majority of Olson’s 93 acting credits came on the small screen and included roles in shows including Gunsmoke, Bonanza, Mannix,Cannon, Wonder Woman, The Bionic Woman, Battlestar Galactica, Little House on the Prairie and Hawaii Five-0. In 1972 he guest starred alongside John Cassavetes and Myrna Loy as emotional trumpeter Paul Rifkin in Columbo Season 2 opener Etude in Black.
Olson retired from acting in 1990 – his final screen appearance coming in Murder, She Wrote. He died peacefully at his home in Malibu.
Died July 7, aged 99
A comedian and actor, famed for his role in 60s sitcom F Troop, Storch fell just short of his 100th birthday after a career that kicked off in the stand-up comedy circuit in the 1930s.
His first big TV break came in the early 1950s when he stepped in as the summer host of variety show The Cavalcade of Stars. He was so well received that he got his own variety show, The Larry Storch Show, to present in 1953. From that point on, Storch accrued more than 250 film and TV credits in an acting career that ran until 2010.
Storch’s Columbo contribution ran to little more than four minutes, but remains one of the best cameos of the entire series. Cast as the uptight driving instructor Mr Weekly in 1974’s Negative Reaction, Storch and Falk played out a largely ad libbed scene in which the already-distressed Weekly is driven to desperation by Columbo’s shoddy driving skills before deciding to walk back to his office rather than risk his life at the Lieutenant’s hands.
Storch died of natural causes at his apartment in Manhattan.
Died July 8, aged 94
A popular character actor on the large and small screens, Jones clocked up more than 160 credits in a career that stretched more than 50 years.
A favourite of director Sam Peckinpah, Jones appeared in five of his westerns: Ride the High Country (1962), Major Dundee (1965), The Wild Bunch (1969), The Ballad of Cable Hogue (1970), and Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (1973). In his later career, he earned roles in a range of blockbuster 90s movies including The Patriot, The Mask of Zorro and Martin Scorsese’s Casino. He even wrote and directed cult 1975 sci-fi A Boy and His Dog.
Amongst his many TV credits were 25 appearances as character Belden in The Virginian, while Jones also popped up in Western-themed series Cheyenne, Rawhide, Gunsmoke, Laramie and Wagon Train. His Columbo turn may have yielded only a few minutes’ screen time, but Jones stole the show as gunrunner-cum-RV-salesman Chuck Jensen in The Conspirators, his appearance giving a mouth-watering glimpse of how great he could have been if cast as a main villain in the show.
Jones died peacefully at home in Hollywood Hills, Los Angeles. He is survived by three children, Randy, Steve and Mindy.
Died August 5, aged 89
Despite having only a tiny role in Ransom for a Dead Man in 1971 (he played banker Mr Perkins, who hands over the ransom cash to Leslie WIlliams), Richard Roat enjoyed a long and distinguished career on stage and screen between 1950s-2000s.
As well as his turn on Columbo, Roat appeared in popular episodes of Seinfeld and Friends (he busted Ross for dating a student), as well as cropping up in the likes of Hawaii Five-O, Cheers, Happy Days, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Golden Girls, Westworld, Kojak, The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, 3rd Rock From the Sun, Ellen, Mad About You and 24. He is perhaps best known for appearing as Dr. Jerry Chandler in 172 episodes of long-running drama The Doctors between 1963-64.
When he wasn’t acting, Roat prepared taxes for many people in the entertainment industry, running Richard Roat Associates with his wife of many years, Kathy, who was said by friends to have been his true soulmate. Roat died suddenly at home in Orange County, California.
Died September 19, aged 95
Best known as lumberjack Jason Bolt in 52 episodes of Here Come the Brides between 1968-70, Robert Brown has more than 30 film and TV credits to his name between 1948-1994.
He overcame being on Hollywood’s blacklist to appear in shows such as Star Trek, Perry Mason, Fantasy Island, Bewitched, Mannix and take the lead role in 26 episodes of Primus. He had also been due to star as Steve McGarrett in Hawaii 5-0, but was switched out at the 11th hour and replaced by Jack Lord.
Brown had a small role as Arthur Meadis in Columbo Season 4 episode Playback, appearing in a entertaining early scene alongside Oskar Werner, Gena Rowlands and Martha Scott in which Harold Van Wick and his hated mother-in-law trade barbs.
Brown died at home in Ojai, California. No cause of death was given.
Died October 20, aged 88
A character actor with 25 movies and hundreds of TV show appearances to his name, Ron Masak starred as ex-con cabbie Eddie Fenelle in 1998 Columbo outing Ashes to Ashes – but was much better known for a recurring role in another hit detective show, Murder, She Wrote.
Masak appeared in 41 episodes alongside Jessica Fletcher – 39 in the role of Sheriff Mort Metzger between seasons 5-12 of the popular series. Other TV credits saw him pop up in the likes of Falcon Crest, Diff’rent Strokes, Quincy ME, Magnum PI, The Rockford Files and Barnaby Jones. He also enjoyed a successful career in advertising and voice-overs in the 80s and 90s.
Masak passed away peacefully at home, surrounded by his family. He is survived by his wife, Kay, six children and 10 grandchildren. His death came only nine days after Murder, She Wrote co-star Angela Lansbury passed away at the age of 96.
Died November 28, aged 85
A fun-loving actor, often cast as larger-than-life characters, Emmich starred as police informant Tubby Comfort in dismal 1992 caper No Time to Die – in which he memorably appeared half naked in a steam room and later while being massaged by a Turkish scorcher.
In a career spanning more than 40 years, he cropped up in nearly 100 film and TV shows, making his movie debut in 1969’s Gaily, Gaily alongside Beau Bridges. His best-known role came be as the driver ‘Chicago’ in the 1973 film Payday, where he drove around a honky tonk singer played by Rip Torn. Other memorable big-screen roles came in Thunderbolt and Lightfoot and Halloween II.
ON TV, he graced many popular shows throughout the 70s, 80s and 90s, including Little House on the Prairie, Happy Days, Starsky and Hutch, Charlie’s Angels, Murder, She Wrote and Coach.
Emmich died at his home in Valley Village, Los Angeles, after a long battle with lung cancer.
If I’ve missed the passing of any other Columbo contributors that you’re aware of, please alert me in the comments section below. It has been a hectic year and there’s every chance I may have missed some announcements.
Please accept my very best wishes to you all for 2023, and I also wish health and longevity to the Columbo guest stars who remain with us.