Leslie Nielsen, whose longtime career as a dramatic actor took a sudden turn into comedy with spoofs such as “Airplane!” and “The Naked Gun,” has died at the age of 84.
Many of my memories of comedy films growing up featured Nielsen. He was definitely one of a kind. He pulled off straight faced comedic lines better than almost anyone I can remember.
RIP Lt. Frank Drebin!
The Canadian-born Nielsen’s career reached back into the early days of television, when he made frequent appearances on live drama series like “Goodyear Playhouse.”
He played the earnest starship captain in the 1956 science-fiction classic “Forbidden Planet” and made regular appearances on a wide range of TV dramas into the 1970s, including “Hawaii Five-O.”
He also played the captain of an overturned ocean liner in the 1972 disaster movie, “The Poseidon Adventure.”
Much of that changed in 1980, when he was cast as a doctor aboard an endangered jetliner in the gag-a-minute disaster-movie parody “Airplane!”
Nielsen’s deadpan response to the question “Surely, you can’t be serious?” with “I am serious — and don’t call me Shirley” helped launch a second career.
The film’s producers went on to cast him in their short-lived television series “Police Squad!”
He reprised that show’s bumbling lead character, Lt. Frank Drebin, a decade later in three “Naked Gun” movies, in which he shared the screen with O.J. Simpson and Priscilla Presley.