Leslie Nielsen passed away today. He was 84. Nielsen is my favorite actor of all time. His movies have been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. No matter what was going on in my life I could always count on a good Leslie Nielsen movie to make me laugh and forget about my problems for a couple hours.
Nielsen’s acting career spanned over four decades. He was acted on TV when it was in its infancy on a variety of live shows. He was a guest star on many popular series of the time and was also a well-known actor on the silver screen. He played leading men, tough guys, and serious roles. His work up until 1980 included disaster movies like The Poseidon Adventure (1972), and light comedies like Tammy and the Bachelor (1957).
But it was his casting in a little film called Airplane! (1980) that would change his career forever and make him a comedy icon in the second half of his career. If you listen to the audio commentary on Airplane!, Jerry and David Zucker and Jim Abrahams talk about how Nielsen didn’t “get” the humor at first. He took the script home, came back the next day and nailed it. The rest, as the cliché goes, is history.
Nielsen’s turn as Dr. Rumack was only the beginning, and he later would create a character that would become his most well known: Lieutenant Frank Drebin of Police Squad. Nielsen starred in six episodes of the short-lived Police Squad series in 1982 as Drebin, and would later reprise the role in three films, The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad! (1988), The Naked Gun 2 ½: The Smell of Fear (1991), and Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult (1994).
His brand of deadpan delivery became his trademark, and it’s hard to watch his earlier films pre-Airplane! without expecting him to say something ridiculous. Nielsen never allowed himself to become typecast as inept characters even with the popularity of his newfound schtick.
He was able to break away from the mold and do guest spots on TV series like The Golden Girls, Who’s the Boss?, The Father Dowling Mysteries, and Due South, as well as play an evil man tormenting Ted Danson in the film Creepshow (1982).
There are films that he’s done that I love and others hate (the critically eviscerated Mr. Magoo (1997) and Wrongfully Accused (1998)), ones that are worth a look (Dracula: Dead and Loving It (1995)), and he’s made movies that I can’t stand (Spy Hard (1996), An American Carol (2008), and 2001: A Space Travesty (2000). He’s done commercials for hearing aids, charities, phone service, an opener for Monday Night Football, and a variety of other things.
His most recent and well-known films were Scary Movie 3 (2003) and Scary Movie 4 (2006) where he played President Baxter Harris, and as Uncle Albert in Superhero Movie (2008).
Leslie Nielsen is a tour de force (or should that be farce) in the world of film comedy.
Nielsen has continued to make audiences laugh for over 30 years, a testament to the strength of comedy and humor and it power to cross generations.
Thank you, Leslie Nielsen, for delivering laughs and memories to me all these years. You will be missed, but your legacy will never fade away.
What’s your favorite Leslie Nielsen movie, line, or moment? Leave a comment and let us know!