Guest star / Killers / Tribute

The Columbo stars we lost in 2016

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Wow, 2016 was a shocker wasn’t it? Many of the world’s most popular stars of stage, screen, concert hall and sporting arena took their one-way trips to the Pearly Gates, leaving the world a little darker for their departure.

Columbo fans weren’t immune to these losses. While far fewer big-names passed away compared to 2015 (read more about them here), a number of much-loved guest stars still bid us farewell.

With the help of the extremely able and conscientious Stuart Robertson (aka @jadiepye on Twitter and columbo_factoftheday on the IG) here’s a list of the Columbo fallen of 2016. Thanks for the memories…

Robert Vaughn – died 11 November 2016, aged 83

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The biggest name on the roll of honour for 2016, Vaughn is one of the archetypal Columbo baddies and was electric as smooth, stylish and sinister car-salesman-cum-murderer Hayden Danziger in the epic Troubled Waters in 1975.

Vaughn was back in Columbo colours a year later, this time playing victim Charles Clay in another nautical episode, Last Salute to the Commodore. It’s a shame he never had a second crack at being a killer.

A fine talent, with hundreds of acting credits to his name from blockbuster motion pictures to parochial British soap operas, there was no one quite like him. Bon voyage, Robert…

Read a longer tribute to Robert Vaughn and what he brought to Columbo here.

Bernard Fox – died 14 December 2016, aged 89

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As British as the Union Jack, the Magna Carter and the Houses of Parliament combined, the mustachioed Fox had an accent the King of England would be proud of and was a jolly presence in both his Columbo outings.

His premiere role saw him cast as Chief Superintendent Durk in 1972’s London-based Dagger of the Mind (pictured). Although hardly amongst the creme de la creme of Columbo episodes, the Durk character lived on and was referenced in 1990’s Columbo Cries Wolf, with the Lieutenant having been in touch with his former compadre as he tried to tie up loose ends. In a show with so few call-backs to earlier episodes, this was a nice touch.

Fox reappeared alongside fellow Brit Patrick Macnee in Troubled Waters in 1975, playing Purser Watkins, who repeatedly tells Columbo he’s on a ship, not a boat. He should know. After all, Fox would twice appear in Titanic films, including James Cameron’s 1997 blockbuster.

Rosanna Huffman – died 20 May, aged 77

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Memorable for her turn as Dale Kingston’s love interest and conspirator, Tracy, from the stupendous Suitable for Framing in 1971, Huffman’s Columbo ties are deep given that she was married to series co-creator Levinson until his death in 1987.

She made the most of her Framing appearance, sporting a legendary 70s hairdo and sharing several passionate clinches with Ross Martin’s dreadful Dale Kingston until he made her the episode’s second victim.

Huffman also played a small role in 1990’s Rest in Peace Mrs Columbo and also appeared in several episodes of Murder, She Wrote – another series co-created by Levinson and Link.

Steven Hill – died 23 August 2016, aged 94

steven-hill-bwBest known to millions in the guise of Adam Schiff in long-running cop drama Law & Order, the solid and dependable Hill also played a small role as Mr Marosco in one of the better ‘new’ Columbo episodes, Murder, Smoke & Shadows from 1989.

After helping raise wunderkind movie director Alex Bradey to stratospheric heights, Marosco later axes him unceremoniously from the back seat of his limo. Cool customer…

George Gaynes – died 15 February 2016, aged 98

gaynes-bwImmortalised as the bungling but well intentioned Commandant Eric Lassard from the Police Academy series, Gaynes had two a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it roles in Columbo, firstly as ‘Everett’ in Etude in Black in 1972, and also as a French wine expert in Any Old Port in a Storm in 1974.

Why was he cast in these roles? Who knows. I like to think he was just hanging around the studios and was press-ganged into action at short notice.

Pat Harrington Jr – died 6 January 2016, aged 89

harrington-bwA talented character actor and star of many a popular show, including, but not limited to, Murder She Wrote, The Love Boat, MacMillan and Wife and Diagnosis Murder, Pat Harrington Jr was also an in-demand voice actor, with credits including Scooby Doo, Captain Caveman and, my personal fave, A Garfield Christmas Special.

His time in the Columbo spotlight was fleeting, as he appeared as health club owner Buddy Castle in 1974’s popular Exercise in Fatality.

Some you may have missed

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Richard Libertini (above, top left): Sheik Yarami in Ashes To Ashes, died 7 January 2016, aged 82

Lee Reherman: Football player in A Bird In The Hand, died 29 February 2016, aged 49

Madeleine Sherwood (above, second left): The Cat on a Hot Tin Roof star appeared as Patrick McGoohan’s nosy secretary Miss Brady in By Dawn’s Early Light. She died on 23 April 2016, aged 93

Stuart Nisbet: Dr Sullivan in The Most Dangerous Match, died on 23 June 2016, aged 82

David Huddleston (above, second right): The Mayor in Columbo Cries Wolf, died 2 August 2016 aged 85

Jack Riley: Director In Candidate For Crime, died 19 August 2016, aged 80

Patricia Barry (above, top right): Played Francine in Playback, the lady at the art exhibition who pointed out that Columbo was admiring an air vent. She died on 11 October, aged 93

Don Calfa: Twice played a character called ‘Rudy’, firstly in 1990’s RIP Mrs Columbo and again five years later in Strange Bedfellows. He died on 1 December 2016, aged 76

So it’s a fond farewell to the above actors, who I hope are having a blast with Peter Falk and co in the great beyond. As more and more Columbo stars of yesteryear reach venerable ages, we must treasure those still with us while we can.

Thanks, as always, for reading – and have a great 2017!

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5 thoughts on “The Columbo stars we lost in 2016

  1. My nan died in 2016 I only ever watched columbo with her and over many many years got thru the majority since she has passed I have found comfort in watching them over again reminiscing of the days we watched them together, today is the anniversary of her death and I am sat watching the last commute to the commodore with Robert vaughn , a belter

  2. For those that look at Madeleine Sherwood and say “I’ve seen her from somewhere before”, she was also none other than Reverend Mother Superior Placido (love the name) in “The Flying Nun”. I watched a Youtube video of Sally Field and she said she didn’t want to take the role but was urged to by her agent, but said the stars on the show she loved, especially Madeleine Sherwood. I watched the show and remembered I liked it, and remember how funny Sherwood was, a wonderful dry wit.

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