Leslie Nielsen of Airplane! and Naked Gun Fame Dies at 84
Leslie Nielsen, whose career went from officious and villainous types to the hilariously buffoony roles in Airplane! and the Naked Gun movies, died Sunday of complications from pneumonia, his agent told TVGuide.com. He was 84.
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He was surrounded by family when he died in a hospital near his Fort Lauderdale, Fla., home.
The actor had a whole career before becoming one of the funniest guys in movies. He typically played people who were quite humorless.
Before his starring roles in The Poseidon Adventure and Forbidden Planet, he appeared in several live television series such as Lights Out, Tales of Tomorrow and Armstrong Circle Theatre.
A student of the Actors Studio, the Canadian-born Nielsen went on to appear in innumerable episodes of various TV series, spanning the Golden Age of Television and its anthologies including Playhouse 90 to Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The Fugitive, Peyton Place and The Wild Wild West — and beyond.
He starred in a 1961-62 TV series titled The New Breed, and appeared in the 1968 pilot of the original Hawaii Five-0, the reboot of which has been the current season's most successful new network prime-time show.
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A stunning turning point in his career came with 1980's Airplane!
Nielsen portrayed Dr. Rumack, a passenger who's one of the few crewmen or passengers not suffering from food poisoning. During the chaos, the doctor delivers more bad news, to which Ted Striker (Robert Hays) says, "Surely, you can't be serious." His deadpan response: "I am serious, and don't call me Shirley."
Long a serious actor, he's known by two generations of fans only as a lovable goofball. It was fitting since he had always been a cut-up and prankster off-screen. In interviews, he said he never went anywhere without his Whoopee cushion.
Following the film's success, Nielsen starred in the ABC series Police Squad! Though the 1982 cop drama satire was short-lived, Nielsen got an Emmy nomination for his portrayal of Detective Frank Drebin.
The series inspired 1988's The Naked Gun, a film which brought Nielsen back as Drebin, who attempted to stop the assassination of Queen Elizabeth II. The film was followed by two sequels, Naked Gun 2½ and Naked Gun 33 1/3. A fourth installment of the series was announced in 2009.
Nielsen went on to star in such parodies as Dracula: Dead and Loving It, Spy Hard and 2001: A Space Travesty. He also appeared in the spoofs Scary Movie 3 and Scary Movie 4 as well as An American Carol and Superhero Movie.
More recently, Nielsen narrated the comedic documentary Doctor*Ology for the Discovery Channel. He also appeared in commercials and lent his voice to animated series.
Nielsen is survived by his fourth wife, Barbaree, and two children from a previous marriage.