Leslie Nielsen, the comedic actor famous for his perfectly timed delivery and outlandish roles in movies such as “Airplane!” and "The Naked Gun” franchise, has died. He was 84.
People reports that the Canadian-born actor died in Fort Lauderdale, Florida from complications of pneumonia. He was, Nielsen’s agent John S. Kelly reports, in the company of his “lovely wife and friends.”
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"We are saddened 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," Kelly said in a statement.
Though perhaps best remembered best for his role as the bungling detective, Nielsen had been a figure in Hollywood since the 1950s, when he moved to California after performing in over 100 live television dramas in New York.
Nielsen’s first big picture break was opposite Kathryn Grayson, as the king of France in the Paramount operetta “The Vagabond King.”
According to the New York Times, the film was a flop, but even so, Nielsen landed a seven-year contract with MGM.
The actor began his career with mostly serious roles—in the sci-fi classic, “Forbidden Planet,” Nielsen played a space ship commander, and transitioned to ship captain for the 1972 original version of “The Poseidon Adventure.”
It was the 1980 comedy “Airplane!” that arguably launched Nielsen into the realm of comedic actor, something that he hadn’t previously explored on-screen.
In a now-famous scene, Nielsen’s character asks a passenger if he can fly the plane. The astounded man responds, “Surely you can’t be serious.”
“I am serious, and don’t call me Shirley,” says Nielsen.
Nielsen was well-acquainted with the small screen as well. After he left MGM to freelance, he made guest appearances on a number of shows, as well as starring in short-lived series of his own creation like "The New Breed," "The Protectors," and "Bracken's World."
After the success of "Airplane!" auteurs Jim Abrahams and David and Jerry Zucker cast the Canadian comedian as Detective Drebin in a series called "Police Squad," a blatant satire on popular cop shows like "Dragnet." The show was cancled after four episodes, even though it was well-recieved. "It didn't belong on TV," said Nielsen. "It had the kind of humor you had to pay attention to."
The actor was born in Saskatchewan on February 11, 1926. His father served as an officer of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, more commonly known as the Mounties. When Nielsen was 17, he joined the Royal Canadian Air Force, in part to leave a troubled home situation where his father was known to beat his wife and three sons.
Nielsen leaves behind two daughters, Thea and Maura, from his second marriage. He was first married to Monica Boyer, from 1950 until 1955, then Sandy Ullman from 1958 to 1974, and finally Brooks Oliver from 1981 to 1985.