‘Columbo’: The Peculiar Reason Bing Crosby Turned Down a Starring Role

After it first premiered in 1968, the TV show Columbo quickly became a ratings hit.

Over the course of the crime drama‘s 10 seasons and numerous made-for-TV movie spinoffs, Columbo racked up dozens of awards and nominations. These include multiple Golden Globes and 13 Emmy Awards. It also solidified the star reputation of actor Peter Michael Falk, who played the eponymous homicide detective Columbo around which the entire series was built.

What many fans don’t realize is that Falk wasn’t the first actor the show approached for the role. 

‘Columbo’ hit the airwaves on February 20, 1968

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Columbo premiered on NBC, which was its home network until 1978 when the drama moved to ABC. 

Throughout it all, Falk plays Lieutenant Columbo at the Los Angeles Police Department. Each episode centers on a specific crime and perpetrator, with Columbo using his shrewd intellect to determine how the villain committed the crime.

To this day, critics continue to praise the show’s writing and Falk’s portrayal of the detective.

For example, in 2012, Colombo was nominated as one of the all-time best TV shows in history by ABC News and People Magazine. And in 2013, the Writers Guild of America West selected it as one of the top best-written TV series ever. The show’s writers “gave audiences arguably the most beloved detective in the history of series television a character as inwardly canny as he was outwardly muddled,” explained the guild.

However, that same “inwardly canny” character almost got played by a completely different actor: Bing Crosby.

Columbo was supposed to be played by Crosby

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In the 1989 book The Columbo Phile: A Casebook, author Mark Dawidziak writes that Columbo‘s writers initially planned for Crosby to star as the character Columbo. 

At the time, Crosby had already completed many of the major film works that he’s known for today, including White Christmas, Road to Morocco, and Holiday Inn. According to Britannica, the actor was moving more into television and production work around the same time that Columbo was being made. “He continued to act into the 1970s, many of his later appearances being on television,” the site explains, pointing out that he was also running his own TV production company and managing his recording portfolio.

Known for his mellow talking voice and casual acting style, he would have brought a different energy to the part of being a homicide detective. However, Crosby quickly turned down the offer for one interesting reason.

Crosby rejected the ‘Columbo’ lead role

Singer Bing Crosby
Singer Bing Crosby | Don Smith/Radio Times via Getty Images

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According to Mental Floss, Crosby “loved the script and the character.” There was just one catch: It interfered with his off-screen hobbies. 

“He feared that a TV series commitment would interfere with his true passion—golf,” explains the outlet. “It was probably providential that Crosby turned the role down, since his death in 1977 occurred while the series was still a solid hit on NBC.”

And Crosby died doing what he loved. “[Crosby] died of a heart attack while on a golf course,” reports Britannica.

“Dad’s happiest days were any that were spent on a golf course,” his son Nathaniel Crosby told The Express. “And the happiest times of my childhood were spent on the golf course with him.” The publication says the elder Crosby would play golf every morning, even if he had a day full of filming or recording, and that he considered golf an outlet for stress and an escape “from the problems of showbusiness.”