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November 29, 2010

Thank You, Leslie Nielsen

As most of you already know, actor Leslie Nielsen died yesterday at the age of 84. I honestly didn't even know that he'd been ill, but I don't really keep up with a lot of the celebrity gossip, and Nielsen wasn't usually found in those pages anyway.

This news saddened me, because I grew up on Leslie Nielsen's comic misadventures. I knew he had been a serious actor before that, but I had never seen him in any of those roles. I still haven't seen Forbidden Planet, something I should do soon.

To me, Nielsen was always the king of deadpan humour, the man who played everything straight even as we were all laughing in the aisles.

Airplane came out in 1980, when I was 10 years old. I don't think I saw it until it was on HBO, but even so it was only a couple of years after that, I believe. It was my first exposure to Nielsen, and surely this movie is the one that cemented his reputation for the type of character that he played throughout the rest of his career.

(Yes, I am leaving out the joke that *everybody's* quoting today, just because I don't want to be one of the crowd).

In addition to Airplane (he wisely declined to be in Airplane 2, though even that movie had its moments), Nielsen is best known as Police Detective Frank Drebin in the short-lived (and much-loved, from us fans) TV show "Police Squad" and the subsequent Naked Gun movies. As Drebin, he moved from complete deadpan to clueless bumbling that still had us laughing.

Drebin: "Well, when I see five weirdos, dressed in togas, stabbing a man in the middle of the park in full view of a hundred people, I shoot the bastards, that's *my* policy!"

Mayor: "That was a Shakespeare-In-The-Park production of 'Julius Caesar,' you moron! You killed five actors! Good ones!"

He would continue to play the same type of character for the most part, in films like Repossessed, the Scary Movie franchise, Spy Hard, Dracula: Dead & Loving It, and many more.

Most of these didn't do very well, or did but he wasn't prominent in them. I think he will forever be known as either Drebin or "that doctor from Airplane."

And really, is that a bad legacy? I don't think so.

He provided so many of us with so much laughter. I hope he realized that throughout his last years, that no matter which crappy movies he might make, he will always be remembered fondly.

Here's his introduction to the Cincinnati Bengals' return to Monday Night Football after a very long absence:

And there's also this classic one from "Police Squad," which I honestly didn't even remember but now find supremely hilarious.

Finally, I just discovered this on Youtube, and it's more classic Nielsen character cluelessness.

Many people today will be memorializing Nielsen. He led a long and varied life, even flying with the Royal Canadian Air Force in World War II before entering acting.

And I know this memorial may be lost in all of those.

But I don't care. Nielsen was one of the greats. He will be greatly missed, and I get the feeling that there will be a number of Airplane and Naked Gun movie marathons coming up in the very near future.

Thank you for the decades of laughter, Mr. Nielsen.

You will live forever in some of our hearts.


  1. It really saddened me as well. Naked Gun was actually MY first experience with seeing Leslie Nielsen's wonderful comedic timing.

    I swear I must have cried through the entire movie (and their eventual sequels) thanks to laughing so hard and so often throughout.

    Thanks to Airplane, I got to see his great sarcasm and luster for making a joke out of even the most serious of lines.

  2. I think it hit me a bit harder because I didn't realize he was 84 (though it should have been obvious he was getting up there, since he was "old" in 1980) and I just didn't see it coming.

    He did do some great stuff, though.


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