RIP Leslie Nielsen
He will probably be most remembered (and most loved) for his Detective Frank Drebin character. The bumbling, accident-prone, hilariously slap-stick and sight gag dependant police detective was first seen in the the "Police Squad" TV series in the US and then later in "Naked Gun" series of movies. But Nielsen was also a noted dramatic actor both on screen and on stage.
I remember watching him in his first big screen comedy role in “Airport” – the first of a series of spoof movies that were released through the 1980s – and laughing non-stop throughout it. Nielsen deadpanned his character to absolute perfection while filling the ‘notable movie quotes’ lists with classic lines such as his response to the question ‘Surely you can’t be serious?’’: “I am serious. And don’t call me Shirley!”
From the IMDB Biography and News Feed for Leslie Nielsen:
Leslie Nielsen, the serious young actor who enjoyed far greater fame in a second career as a bumbling, older, comic actor in hits such as Airplane! and the Naked Gun series, has died from complications from pneumonia brought on while battling a staph infection. He was 84.
Nielsen was born on February 11, 1926 in Regina in the Saskatchewan province of Canada. He was the son of a Canadian Mounted policeman and went on to serve in the Royal Canadian Air Force before becoming a radio announcer and DJ. A scholarship to New York’s Neighborhood Playhouse allowed him to study acting with Sanford Meisner and dance with Martha Graham. Bit parts on stage and TV led to leading roles.
His height and his good looks made him a natural to play the stalwart hero, which he did in films like the sci-fi classic Forbidden Planet. He then spent two decades in various TV roles, often guest spots, with the odd turn in movies where the role required a serious and commanding presence, as he did as the captain of the doomed ship in The Poseidon Adventure.
He was doing guest stints on television’s "The Love Boat" and "Fantasy Island" when David and Jerry Zucker and Jim Abrahams came to call. They wanted Nielsen to play the solemn character he’d perfected over the years in their upcoming spoof Airplane! as Dr. Rumack, the practical physician aboard a troubled flight. Nielsen was relieved to be offered something where he wasn’t playing the grandfather and the role forever changed his career and the public’s perception of him.
Though Airplane! was the surprise hit of that summer Nielsen headed back to TV, to star as Lt. Frank Drebin in the short-lived Zucker/Abraham’s comedy, “Police Squad!” The show failed but it inspired the creative team behind it to make a big screen version with The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad!
The success of that film in 1988 led to two sequels with Nielsen headlining and the reliable George Kennedy and still comely Priscilla Presley supporting. The series also gave O.J. Simpson another few years of time in front of the movie camera. Several poorer cousins, such as Dracula: Dead and Loving It, Mr. Magoo, Spy Hard and Wrongfully Accused, followed and tainted the goodwill Nielsen had accumulated and the diminishing box office confirmed it. He continued to make cameo appearances in films, almost all spoofs, up until his death.
If you’re not that familiar with Nielsen’s film work, a quick Youtube search for “Leslie Nielsen” returns over 3,000 clips online. Of these, I found this montage of scenes which was created specifically for Mr. Nielsen in March 2009 for the DeSales University Student Film Festival to be the most interesting as it contains clips of the actor at work through much of his career. Mr. Nielsen commented on it saying "It’s the best representation of my work. I’m moved deeply." It’s worth a fondly nostalgic look for one last occasion:
Expect a very moving tribute to the man at next years’ Academy Awards. RIP Leslie Nielsen.