Leslie Nielsen
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LOS ANGELES (AP) - Despite decades spent playing sober commanders and serious captains, Leslie Nielsen insisted that he was always made for comedy. He proved it in his career's second act.

"Surely you can't be serious," an airline passenger says to Nielsen in "Airplane!" the 1980 hit that turned the actor from dramatic leading man to comic star.

"I am serious," Nielsen replies. "And don't call me Shirley."

The line was probably his most famous - and a perfect distillation of his career.

Nielsen, the dramatic lead in "Forbidden Planet" and "The Poseidon Adventure" and the bumbling detective Frank Drebin in "The Naked Gun" comedies, died on Sunday in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. He was 84.

The Canada native died from complications from pneumonia at a hospital near his home, surrounded by his wife, Barbaree, and friends, his agent John S. Kelly said in a statement.

Critics argued that when Nielsen went into comedy he was being cast against type, but Nielsen disagreed, saying comedy was what he intended to do all along.

"I've finally found my home - as Lt. Frank Drebin," he told The Associated Press in a 1988 interview.

Comic actor Russell Brand took to Twitter to pay tribute to Nielsen, playing off his famous line: "RIP Leslie Nielsen. Shirley, he will be missed."

Nielsen came to Hollywood in the mid-1950s after performing in 150 live television dramas in New York. With a craggily handsome face, blond hair and 6-foot-2 (1.88-meter) height, he seemed ideal for a movie leading man.

Nielsen first performed as Thibault in the Paramount operetta "The Vagabond King" with Kathryn Grayson.

The film - he called it "The Vagabond Turkey" - flopped, but MGM signed him to a seven-year contract.

His first film for that studio was auspicious - as the spaceship commander in the science fiction classic "Forbidden Planet." He found his best dramatic role as the captain of an overturned ocean liner in the 1972 disaster movie, "The Poseidon Adventure."

Behind the camera, the serious actor was a well-known prankster. That was an aspect of his personality never exploited, however, until "Airplane!" was released in 1980 and became a huge hit.

As the doctor aboard a plane in which the pilots, and some of the passengers, become violently ill, Nielsen says they must get to a hospital right away.

"A hospital? What is it?" a flight attendant asks, inquiring about the illness.

"It's a big building with patients, but that's not important right now," Nielsen deadpans.

It was the beginning of a whole new career in comedy. Nielsen would go on to appear in such comedies as "Repossessed" - a takeoff on "The Exorcist" - and "Mr. Magoo," in which he played the title role of the good-natured bumbler.

But it took years before he got there.

He played Debbie Reynolds' sweetheart in 1957's popular "Tammy and the Bachelor," and he became well known to baby boomers for his role as the Revolutionary War fighter Francis Marion in the Disney TV adventure series "The Swamp Fox."

He asked to be released from his contract at MGM, and as a freelancer, he appeared in a series of undistinguished movies.

"I played a lot of leaders, autocratic sorts; perhaps it was my Canadian accent," he said.

Meanwhile, he remained active in television in guest roles. He also starred in his own series, "The New Breed," "The Protectors" and "Bracken's World," but all were short-lived.

Then "Airplane!" captivated audiences and changed everything.

Producers-directors-writers Jim Abrahams, David and Jerry Zucker had hired Robert Stack, Peter Graves, Lloyd Bridges and Nielsen to spoof their heroic TV images in a satire of flight-in-jeopardy movies.

After the movie's success, the filmmaking trio cast their newfound comic star as Detective Drebin in a TV series, "Police Squad," which trashed the cliches of "Dragnet" and other cop shows. Despite good reviews, ABC quickly canceled it. Only six episodes were made.

"It didn't belong on TV," Nielsen later said. "It had the kind of humor you had to pay attention to."

The Zuckers and Abraham converted the series into a feature film, "The Naked Gun," with George Kennedy, O.J. Simpson and Priscilla Presley as Nielsen's co-stars. Its huge success led to sequels "The Naked Gun 2 1/2" and "The Naked Gun 33 1/3."

His later movies included "All I Want for Christmas," "Dracula: Dead and Loving It" and "Spy Hard."

Between films he often turned serious, touring with his one-man show on the life of the great defense lawyer, Clarence Darrow.

Nielsen was born Feb. 11, 1926 in Regina, Saskatchewan.

He grew up 200 miles south of the Arctic Circle at Fort Norman, where his father was an officer of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

The parents had three sons, and Nielsen once recalled, "There were 15 people in the village, including five of us. If my father arrested somebody in the winter, he'd have to wait until the thaw to turn him in."

The elder Nielsen was a troubled man who beat his wife and sons, and Leslie longed to escape. As soon as he graduated from high school at 17, he joined the Royal Canadian Air Force, even though he was legally deaf (he wore hearing aids most of his life.)

After the war, Nielsen worked as a disc jockey at a Calgary radio station, then studied at a Toronto radio school operated by Lorne Greene, who would go on to star on the hit TV series "Bonanza." A scholarship to the Neighborhood Playhouse brought him to New York, where he immersed himself in live television.

Nielsen also was married to: Monica Boyer, 1950-1955; Sandy Ullman, 1958-74; and Brooks Oliver, 1981-85.

Nielsen and his second wife had two daughters, Thea and Maura.


Copyright © 2010 The Associated Press
Published in Remembrance.com on Nov. 28, 2010.
Memories & Condolences
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908 entries
May 26, 2020
As a COP most of my life I enjoyed the role that Leslie played in police squad and the the Naked Gun.
The humor was a great distraction from the real world that "COP's" live in. As I write this I am watching Naked Gun.
End of watch for Lt. Drebin. Thank you Mr. Nielson (yes it is 10 yrs later, but better late than never)
Sgt. Bill G.
April 27, 2020
RIP, Mr. Nielsen, you were a great actor. You will be remembered forever. Very funny,!
April Horowitz-Yeary
August 27, 2019
Tonight watching Naked Gun 33 1/3. Leslie always make me laugh. Rest in Peace great actor.
Kees Recourt
November 29, 2017
Leslie Nielson certainly made a very successful transition from dramatic to comedic actor. His roles in Naked Gun and Airplane could leave you crying with laughter. Laughter is good medicine for whatever ails you and its good to still have his movies availabe to make us laugh and put aside our troubles. May the God of all comfort give comfort to the surviving members of the family.
Leonard Tucker
April 5, 2017
I loved Tammy and the Bachelor. It brings back memories of when I was young. Thank-you, Mr. Nielsen and Ms. Reynolds!
Trudy Bradbury
March 21, 2017
Tammy is one movie I will always love. You and Debbie Reynolds made Tammy an unforgettable classic.
Nazarene Mckinney
January 27, 2017
Grew up watching his movies, Great Actor one of the best in my opinion, thank you for the laughs Mr Nielsen.
Miguel Sandoval
September 11, 2016
Valenda Newell
April 19, 2016
I will always remember you as Lt frank Drebbin in naked gun. When I first saw that movie I cried with laughter. I have and still watch all your comedy's.
You made a lot of people very happy with your humour. I think that's a wonderful legacy. Thank you Sir. Rest in Peace.
Mark Watson
November 28, 2015
Thank you for sharing a part of your life with us.
Harry Simpson
July 16, 2015
Funny, talented, handsome, sexy and real. One of the greats. Thanks, Leslie, for all the laughs that continue even today. You'll not be soon forgotten.
Karen Wright
March 19, 2015
RIP Frank Dribin. You were one funny guy and truly missed after all these years.
Leigh Robinson
December 13, 2014
Rest In Peace!
Leslie Nielsen!
Loretta Marshall
December 12, 2014
To the family of Leslie Nielsen, I truly was sorry to here about Leslie's death in 2010, I really was sad about it. I really did love his acting. I though that he was very funny. "I'll never forget him. Be always encouraged family and always trust in the Lord.
Loretta Marshall
December 9, 2014
Thanks for the deep belly laughs!
Greg Gordon
December 4, 2014
One of the true greats! You are sorely missed Mr. Nielsen.
Gina Stefanske
December 1, 2014
A fine actor and a wonderful comedic talent. I was absolutely enthralled with Forbidden Planet as a youngster. As an adult I laughed like crazy at your comedies beginning with Airport. You may no longer be with us but your spirit and talent live on in the entertainment you have left us!
Joe Mazloom
August 18, 2014
Mr. Nielsen, I enjoyed your humor for many years. I will most remember your role in the final two episodes of "The Golden Girls." I wish you peace.
Richard Parrish
October 28, 2013
You sir will be missed..Pleasant Journey
Holden Caulfield
August 8, 2013
The world has lost a comedian that was able to make people laugh and smile without belittling others. True talent and character. His impact will be long lasting and his memory will always bring a smile.
Randy Paura
August 7, 2013
Thanks for making Canada Proud! A great Actor and good Canadian. You will be missed! Thanks for all the belly laughs - so good for the soul. xo
Janni J
July 27, 2013
RIP Leslie- I've enjoyed your humour for many years. From the Yukon Ter where some of your people still reside.
Murray Biggin Whitehorse.
July 25, 2013
You brought great laughter and joy to many of us and for that reason you will not be forgotten. Laughter truly is the best medicine!
Colleen Boles
July 19, 2013
And fine actor. He will be missed.
Isabel Monteith
July 18, 2013
I just loved his humour. He made me laugh so much in his shows . He will be so missed . I met him in Richmond many years ago when his brother Gordie owned the Bowling Alley.. My sympathy goes to all his family and friends . He was a real Canadian who shall never be forgotten .
Patricia Anderson
July 15, 2013
What a great loss. I was a huge fan. Loved watching your movies over and over again. You will truly be missed. RIP Leslie. xoxox
Deb Rodgers
July 13, 2013
You great unique man.... You were to marry.
Marianne Mulder
July 9, 2013
I've had a lot of laughs on your behalf. Thanks for all the fun!
Moe
July 1, 2013
rip leslie
having a last name of shirley you made
me famous for saying .....of course i'm serious....and you can call me shirley
ron shirley
June 30, 2013
RIP Leslie...Thank you for the million laughs.
Brian Payne
June 22, 2013
In loving memory of a wonderful person. We will love you and miss you always.
June Kiss
June 22, 2013
You will always live in our hearts and prayers.
Marton Kiss
June 22, 2013
Thank you for the laughter Leslie. You were a great Canadian and will be missed.
Kevin McElroy
March 17, 2013
To Leslie Nielsen,
You were a very talented actor. You were great in the movies The Naked Gun, and Airplane. My prayers are with your family and you too. Lisa Weiner
Lisa Weiner
March 3, 2013
Rest In Peace, Mr. Nielsen. You Were A True Multi Talent. See You On The Other Side Some Beautiful Day.
Richard Owen
January 11, 2013
Richard Herrick
October 2, 2012
Grief can be so hard, but our special memories help us cope. Remembering you and your loved one today and always.
May 19, 2012
KATHY AND BUDDY BARNETT
February 20, 2012
Missed rip
Chele Wright
January 21, 2012
sadly missed a legend always
Rob Nightingale
November 29, 2011
My all time favourite comedy actor is no more, sadly when u urself are getting older so are ur heroes. Another hero has left us. Leslie i will allways treasure ur style of acting, the world needz ppl that dont take themself to serious more bad then ever. I wish everyone that feels sad from this strength and know that there are many feeling the same.....Deposneek @ The Netherlands
Erwin
November 26, 2011
To a wonderfully multi-talented actor and man...the world just seems a little less funny now that you are gone. Thank you for all the fun and laughs you brought into our lives. Leslie--you are dearly missed and always in our hearts.
Barb Rowland
June 22, 2011
What a great guy. You will be missed.
ps: save me a seat
Mark Billingsley
June 18, 2011
R.I.P.
Steven Emanuel
April 15, 2011
From left to right: Norma Nelson, Leslie Nielsen and Jennie Brown (nee Sawka).
My mother, Jennie Brown, went to school with Leslie Nielsen in Thorhild Alberta. She recently passed away - also at 84 years of age. She was shaken when Leslie passed; she had shared with us fond memories of Leslie and his family.

I'm attaching a photo of Norma Nelson, Leslie Nielsen and Jennie Brown (nee Sawka).
Dawne Brown
March 1, 2011
There aren't words to express how you will be missed. Thank you for the time you gave us.
Cathy Carr
March 1, 2011
There really aren't words to express how you will be missed. Thank you for the time you gave us.
Cathy Carr (Mattoon, IL)
March 1, 2011
I remember the series "The Swamp Fox" very well. Sorry to see him pass.

Mike (Georgia)
Mike
February 28, 2011
Thank you for the laughs! I smile when I think of Airplane...and now my children who are older teens appreciate that movie's humor and all your movies. You were a class act!
Lisa Baty
February 28, 2011
So proud that you are a Canadian. We seem to produce fine comics here...Maybe it's part of a ruse to keep warm by laughing through the winter months. Thanks Leslie, for your dramatic and comedic talents.
Sylvia (Ottawa, Ontario, Canada)
Sylvia
February 28, 2011
"you were truly one of the best comedic actors of so many generations, past, present, and future. God speed"
brian delaney
February 28, 2011
Leslie;
"Shirley, You will be missed."
Tim
February 28, 2011
I loved him in all of the movies he starred in, he was an exceptional actor. Kimesha Thomas, NJ
Kimesha Thomas
February 28, 2011
It truly saddened me to hear of Leslie Nielson's death. I enjoyed his wit, charm, good looks and he was a wonder actor. I am very sad he's gone.
Sami Payment, Cottage Grove, Oregon
Sami Payment
February 12, 2011
i enjoyed all your movies,'Naked Gun'Airplane,R.I.P my friend you will be missed.
christopher knibbs
February 3, 2011
I think Leslie Nielsen is truly the Great
Actor in all his Movies.
Grady Youngblood
January 22, 2011
I wanted to send you these words of sincere sympathy upon the death of a wonderful person. He will remain in the hearts of all who knew and loved him and who followed his career with pride for so many unforgettable years.
Please take the time to read Daniel 12:2. Sending love and sympathy.
Marie Grove, Mphs, TN
January 18, 2011
Thoroughly enjoyed "Spy Hard" and have memories of " Naked Gun " and "Airplane" Rest in Peace.
Dolores Devlin
January 15, 2011
You will surely be missed Leslie:) Pat Kelsey
Patricia Kelsey
January 9, 2011
As the days and weeks pass, and as you return to life's routine, may you continue to feel comforted by the love and support of family and friends.
Emmanuel Montoya
January 9, 2011
May the God of all comfort, bring comfort to the family and friends of Mr Nielsen. We look forward to the time when sickness and death is a thing of the past.
C M
January 5, 2011
I have watched Mr. Nielsen as an actor over the years in dramatic roles and funny roles. I have liked him in all of them. May God grant you peace at this time. CT Ohio
January 4, 2011
I will always be thankful for the many smiles and chuckles you and your movies gave me. Thank you for bringing so much fun into so many lives. You will be remembered thoughtfully.
Fill D'Elia
January 4, 2011
Leslie was a funny man he did a lot of good movies but the one's he did later was really funny and I loved them.to his Family I'm sorry for your loss he will be missed, I still laugh when I think of him.
Linda Jensen
January 4, 2011
He was an amazing actor that will be missed....His legacy will live on!!
Jamie Walthers
January 3, 2011
So sorry for your loss. John 5:21
Bea
January 2, 2011
Sometimes meeting celebrities can be a letdown, as they often don't measure up to our image of them. Not Mr. Nielsen. I met him when he was shooting some public service spots for the Phoenix Fire Department. He had a great sense of humor, was a very nice, genuine, and humble man. He seemed like a person who really enjoyed life and appreciated all his celebrity had given him. I was saddened to hear of his passing and consider myself lucky to have met him. My sincere condolences to his family and loved ones.
Cindy
January 1, 2011
Good Man but never forgotten
January 1, 2011
Good Man but never forgotten
Cynthia Clark-Chambers
December 30, 2010
I liked his science fiction film, "Forbidden Planet" released sometime between 1957 & ''60. Super cool film. It proved you could make a very entertaining & interesting film without all the profanity being used today. Fan, Gary Jones
gary jones
December 30, 2010
You have added greatly enjoyable times to my life. For this,I am very grateful.

Rest safe Mr Nielsen.
Joel Chandler
December 29, 2010
We will miss him! Condolences to his family. I liked "Rent a Kid", actually. He had a dryer sense of humor in that film, but he owned it!
Tom C
December 27, 2010
Mr.Nielsen was a very very funny actor just watched airplane today funny. He will be missed.
Grace Dorsey
December 27, 2010
He was a very funny man. He will be missed. God Bless his family now and always.
Robert Watkins
December 23, 2010
Another great human being gone. The World needs more people like Leslie to make us all laugh out loud!!
Denise Stucky
December 15, 2010
josie gutierrez
December 13, 2010
"Leslie Nielsen passed away? Surely you jest.. No I'm not kidding and stop calling me Shirley!" What a loss. Another great Canadian gone.. RIP Frank
James Oliver
December 11, 2010
Another terrific actor and terrific person gone but will never be forgotten.
Gladys Demson
December 11, 2010
you are now in the hands of the lord,thats where you belong.save me a good spot bud
Bryan Boyle
December 10, 2010
GOd bless you. My deepest sympathy goes out to his family.
Viesta Washington
December 9, 2010
To the family I send my deepest condolences. I remember Mr. Leslie Nielsen in Swamp Fox when I was child and the Forbidden Planet. Great actor that made the transition from serious actor to comedy. Please take comfort from the scriptures and each other.
Acts 5:25-29
Donna Baker
December 9, 2010
You were fricken funny! Great movies. Sorry for those who lost such a nice guy.
December 8, 2010
Thank you for all the fun and laughter you've brought into my life. Thank you for all the smiles and jokes, sunshine and all... I will miss you.
-Raymond Aboga, Philippines
Raymond Aboga
December 7, 2010
I hope that his family can get past this, and all my thoughts and hope is with them. We'll miss you, Leslie.
Jessica Perea
December 7, 2010
He was the funny one in all the movies I seen him in. He will be dearly missed. I hope his family can pass through this, and I hope they don't have much pain. We all will miss him.
Jessica Perea
December 6, 2010
We are so sad that you will with us anymore but will continue to laugh and share great thoughts your movies play on and on. I learned that you had a law enforcement connection in the past and I am pleased that the honor guard from my police department and others will honor you during your service. You have brought my family hours of fun and closeness. God watch over your sole forever.
Cindy Heafy
December 6, 2010
Will be sadly missed but fondly remembered for everything he gave. His movies will live forever. The laughs and bonding he brought to my family as we watched him will be remembered forever.
The Kenmy family
December 6, 2010
He gave so much to all his fans... now it is his turn to be rewarded for his time on earth. May your hearts rejoice for having had him in your lives. May your hearts hold dear his memory and release the pain of your loss.
V H
December 6, 2010
Thanks for all the laughs.. You will be missed
Justin Langston
December 6, 2010
You have given us countless laughs, for that we will always be thankful !! Rest in Peace Sir....
Mike Moser
December 6, 2010
My condolences to the Nielsen family he was a very very funny man and he will be missed by movies goers my favorite movie with LESLIE was Naked guns and Mr Magoo RIP LESLIE
Donnie Donahue
December 6, 2010
to the family his passing means that we will all miss him,MY sons favorite picture DRACULA DEAD AND LOVING IT. god bless the family we mourn with you for a life of laughter that parted this life too soon.thank you LESLIE for sharing your life in movies with us. yvonne, NEW ORLEANS, LA.
YVONNE LONGS
December 6, 2010
Thank God he was here.........
Donnie Hanberry
December 5, 2010
May God bless and comfort you and your family in your time of grief. His life and love of life will not be forgotten.
La Nona Boyd
December 5, 2010
May your hearts soon be filled with wonderful memories of joyful times together as you celebrate a life well lived.
Matthew McGuire
December 5, 2010
May your family find peace and love with his passing. His memory will live on in television land. My husband had done some remodel work on his home in Scottsdale, Arizona,Mr. Nielsen was a very kind person, he had made all the workers stop and take a break while he served Tea & Biscotti to the workers. Not only was he larger than life in his movies, He was a real person and very kind to those he met. My prayers are with the family and close friends. I have so many favorite lines from Airplane, he will never be forgotten.
Cathy M.
December 4, 2010
I loved Airplane!!! I will still watch it and it still makes me laugh:) Wonderful comedic actor who will be missed by many.
Nicole Walgreen
December 4, 2010
You I'll be sadly missed but will continue to make me and others laugh for years to come with your great talent, one person I so wanted to meet, a great loss to us all. RIP Leslie never forgotten
Bruce Griffiths
December 3, 2010
To the Nielsen Family, May God bless and comfort you during this difficult time.

Thank you for all of the great memories. You are a Canadian Icon that will be fondly remembered,greatly respected,truly missed and loved always!
Joseph Gombosa
December 3, 2010
You will always be in our thoughts and prayers and thank you for all your wonderful movies that you did. You will always be one of my most favorite actors.Gods speed and sympathy to your loved ones.
gail cook
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