An actor who made his career in dramas before finding even greater success as a comic performer has died. Leslie Nielsen passed away in his sleep yesterday, surrounded by his family, in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. He was being treated for pneumonia in a hospital and was 84 years old.
A veteran of more than 150 live TV dramas, Nielsen graduated to supporting and starring roles in movies like The Poseidon Adventures and Forbidden Planet. He played many, many roles on television shows of the 50s and 60s including guest shots on The Fugitive, Peyton Place, The Wild Wild West, and the pilot of Hawaii Five-0. Later TV appearances include those on Murder, She Wrote, Who’s the Boss, Kung Fu, M*A*S*H, Fantasy Island, and the finale of The Golden Girls.
A familiar face to TV viewers, Nielsen starred in a few shows of his own like The New Breed, The Explorers, and most recently, Doctor*ology. It was a short-lived series however that, in retrospect, has become his most beloved television work.
Nielsen had a supporting role in Airplane!, a parody of the disaster and airport films of the day. Like others in the film, he played his role with deadpan seriousness and it clicked. The film’s directors — Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, and Jerry Zucker — decided to try the same style of comedy on television and cast Nielsen as stereotypical no-nonsense cop Det. Frank Drebin on Police Squad!. The show only lasted six episodes but became a cult favorite and led to the feature film sequels The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad!, The Naked Gun 2½: The Smell of Fear, and Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult.
Nielsen acted in other comedy films after that and even personified another beloved TV character, Mr. Magoo, in 1997. Nielsen remained active in his career and will next be heard in The Waterman Movie which is slated for release in 2011.
Of his passing, a statement from his family reads, “We are sadden by the passing of beloved actor Leslie Nielsen, probably best remembered as Lt. Frank Drebin in The Naked Gun series of pictures, but who enjoyed a more than 60-year career in motion pictures and television.”
What do you think? What are your favorite Leslie Nielsen memories or performances?