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Leslie Nielsen Leaves Behind Comic Legacy

While the results of the recent NASA arsenic study are important and interesting, many people are preoccupied with recent sad news.  Leslie Nielsen died on November 28, 2010 in Fort Lauderdale Florida from complications related to pneumonia. He was 84 years old at the time of his death, an actor who had participated in projects as recently as the previous year and whose work spanned six decades. He leaves behind a wonderful comic acting legacy and a special brand of straight deadpan delivery that will be remembered and missed.

Early Career of Leslie Nielsen

Leslie Nielsen was born in Saskatchewan in 1926. Early in his adult life he decided to pursue an acting career, a decision that eventually brought him to the United States where he eventually became a naturalized citizen. He found steady work in TV, plays, and in other media early on, eventually getting into film roles as well. From the 1950s through the 1970s, he has built up a considerable reputation as a serious actor in films, portraying different characters such as a mob boss or a police officer. Then in 1980 his career took a permanent turn with the release of a low budget movie called Airplane!.

Airplane! was a farcical comedy about a jet that might possibly be doomed and the passengers aboard that jet. In a role that has come to partially define his career as a comedic actor, Leslie Nielsen played Dr. Rumack, a clueless physician who tries to play his part to help but only adds to the hysteria. Some of the lines from Airplane! have ended up living on through the years, such as the one where another character says to him, "Surely you aren't serious," only for Leslie Nielsen to respond, "I am serious. And don't call me Shirley."

This deadpan clueless style of delivery and acting endeared him to fans and made Airplane! a huge box office success. Next came a short lived TV show called Police Squad!, a show that only lasted a few episodes in 1982 but that did create the character of Detective Frank Drebin [1], a character that would become much more famous in The Naked Gun franchise of movies that came out in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

The Naked Gun

The Naked Gun introduced Leslie Nielsen to a whole new generation of fans. Although it appealed greatly to young people who had never even heard of Airplane!, some of the humor was deceptively sophisticated and the plot interesting enough to entertain older fans as well. Leslie Nielsen had the pleasure of working with Priscilla Presley and O.J. Simpson on all three movies. No word on whether the Juice was caught up on his auto insurance service when he led police on that low speed chase late in 1994, the year The Naked Gun 33 1/3 came out.

Leslie Nielsen and the style of comic acting that he brought to the big screen had an effect on the others he worked with as well. No one would have ever considered Priscilla Presley as a comic leading lady before these films came out, but the simple and yet brilliant style she got to be a part of made it all possible. And that pairing, of course, produced some notable quotes as well, including one very famous one probably not suitable for this forum. Leslie Nielsen was at the top of his game as an actor in comedy, even though he didn't do any comedy until he was well into his 50s. It is interesting to look back at his career and think that a chance pairing really led Leslie Nielsen to his ultimate destiny as a movie star and icon.

[1] http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/29/nyregion/29nielsen.html Retrieved 2010-12-06.

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