Primetime Emmy-Nominated Actor Leslie Nielsen Dies at 84
After years of dramatic work, Nielsen experienced a successful career resurgence in the 1980s in a string of popular comedic roles.
Leslie Nielsen, the Canadian-born actor who established himself as a dramatic performer for decades before shifting to a series of popular comedic roles in such projects as the feature film Airplane! and The Naked Gun, and the television series Police Squad!, died November 28, 2010, in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. He was 84.
According to news reports, Nielsen died at a hospital where he was being treated for pneumonia.
Nielsen began his professional career in radio in his native Canada, and later performed in more than a hundred live television dramas, including such series as Robert Montgomery Presents, The Magnavox Theatre and Goodyear Playhouse. For more than two decades he appeared in dramatic or romantic film roles. These included the films Forbidden Planet, Tammy and the Bachelor and The Poseidon Adventure.
A departure came in 1980, when he co-starred in the popular big-screen farce Airplane! as a dim-witted physician onboard a doomed airliner.
The film provided Nielsen with perhaps his most memorable line of dialogue.
At one point, a bewildered passenger says to him, “Surely you can't be serious.”
“I am serious,” Nielsen replies. “And don't call me Shirley.”
Following the success of Airplane!, Nielsen received offers for comedic roles, and he went on to bring his signature deadpan style to the role of Lt. Frank Drebin in the 1982 television series Police Squad!, from the director and writers of Airplane!
Although Police Squad! lasted just six episodes, its creators brought Drebin to the big screen for three feature films inspired by the series: The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad!, The Naked Gun 2 ½: The Smell of Fear and The Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult.
Other comedies included Repossessed, Dracula: Dead and Loving It, Spy Hard and 2001: A Space Travesty. He also co-starred as the mentally unstable President of the United States in Scary Movie 3 and Scary Movie 4.
He was Leslie William Nielsen on February 11, 1926, in Regina, Saskatchewan, and grew up in the Northwest Territories and in Edmonton, Alberta.
Before he turned 18, he enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force and trained as an aerial gunner during World War II, but was never sent overseas.
After getting his start in radio in Calgary, he studied at the Academy of Studio Arts in Toronto and at the Neighborhood Playhouse in New York.
He made his television debut in a 1950 episode of the anthology series Actors Studio, which aired on CBS. More television work followed, as well as the 1952 Broadway play Seagulls Over Sorrento and feature films.
He continued to make guest appearances in television series throughout hi career, including episodes of The Fugitive, Ben Casey, Dr. Kildare, It Takes a Thief, Gunsmoke, The Big Valley, Medical Center, M*A*S*H, Barnaby Jones, Ironside, Kojak, Columbo, Fantasy Island, Hotel, 227 and many others.
On stage, he toured North America and Great Britain in a one-man show about lawyer Clarence Darrow.
Nielsen earned two Primetime Emmy nominations — in 1982 as outstanding lead actor in a comedy series for Police Squad! and in 1988 as outstanding guest actor in a comedy series for an episode of the NBC comedy Day by Day.
In 20022 he was made an Officer of the Order of Canada, the country’s highest civilian honor.
He is survived by his fourth wife and two daughters from his second marriage.