Why ‘Columbo’ Star Peter Falk Lost His Eye as a Child

Peter Falk is well-known for his starring role on one of the most famous detective TV shows ever, Columbo. However, not everyone knows that one of his eyes was synthetic. Here’s a look at why he had a fake eye — and whether one of his movies included a subtle reference to it.

Peter Falk | NBCU Photo Bank

How ‘Columbo”s Peter Falk learned he had to get his eye removed

In 2005, Falk and Paul Reiser sat down for an interview with CNN’s Larry King Live to discuss their then-new movie The Thing About My Folks. During the interview, King asked Faulk how he lost his eye.

“Three years old cancer,” Falk revealed. “Yes, my mother told me she sent me to some kind of a pre-kindergarten school and the teacher called my mother and said, ‘Your son when he looks at something he tilts his head in a funny way. Something might be wrong there.’”

A Columbo trailer

Falk revealed what happened afterward. “So, my mother took me to a doctor and that doctor says that’s cancer and that’s got to come out,” he said. “She took me to two more doctors that same day. They all three said the same thing and two days later I was operated on. Faulk revealed that his original synthetic eye was made of glass but his new one was made of plastic. He noted he had to remove his glass eye from his head every night but he could keep his plastic eye inside his eye socket at all times.”

According to The Guardian, having a synthetic eye changed Falk’s career. He was unable to join the navy because of his condition, instead joining the merchant navy. During his time in the merchant navy, he worked in a kitchen. 

Columbo in front of a man
Peter Falk | FilmPublicityArchive/United Archives via Getty Images

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Was there a reference to Peter Falk’s synthetic eye in one of his movies?

During the aforementioned Larry King Live interview, Reiser said people interpreted one of the jokes in The Thing About My Folks as a reference to Falk’s synthetic eye. “There was a line in the movie, actually the line you see where the girl walks by and this young girl walks right a little close to his face and Peter goes ‘Oh, she almost took an eye out with that,’” he said. “And everybody says, ‘Oh, is that a reference to him?’ I said, ‘No, it’s a joke for God’s sake.’”

How the world reacted to ‘The Thing About My Folks’

Apparently, the humor of The Thing About My Folks did not resonate with an enormous audience. According to Box Office Mojo, the film earned $235,341 during its opening weekend. In total, The Thing About My Folks earned $816,403. While many films which didn’t make much money became cult classics, The Thing About My Folks isn’t one of them. The Thing About My Folks wasn’t a major success, however, Falk still became a television icon because of Columbo — whether his eye was synthetic or not.