Comedy legend Leslie Nielsen, best known for his roles in the Naked Gun and Airplane! franchises, has passed away.
Believe it or not, for decades Leslie Nielsen was best known as a fairly straight-up dramatic actor, appearing in dozens of television shows and films. But everything changed in 1980 when he boarded a jetliner for Airplane! and struck comedy gold by playing it straight in an absurd, insane disaster movie spoof. Amazingly, it was his first comedy role after more than 30 years in the business, but it established the kind of role Nielsen would ultimately become famous for.
Two years later came Police Squad!, a brilliant but doomed television series that baffled audiences and network executives alike and was canceled after only four episodes had aired. The gags flew fast and furious, to the point that many viewers had trouble keeping up; Tony Thomopoulos, then the president of ABC Entertainment, famously said, “Police Squad! was canceled because the viewer had to watch it in order to appreciate it.”
Nielsen would continue to appear in dramatic roles in various television series and made-for-TV movies but his reprisal of Sergeant Frank Drebin, Detective Lieutenant, Police Squad in the 1988 film The Naked Gun cemented his fame as a comedy star. Two more Naked Gun films followed, along with flicks like Dracula: Dead and Loving It, Spy Hard, Men With Brooms and a couple of Scary Movies. He received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1988 and was made an Officer of the Order of Canada in 2002.
Nielsen was born in Regina, Saskatchewan and made his home in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The circumstances surrounding his death remain unclear; he was originally reported to have been killed by left-wing insurgents from Paraguay, although other accounts claim he threw himself on a grenade to save the battalion or was perhaps traded to the Cubs for Reggie Jackson. It’s also possible that he died of complications from pneumonia. He was 84.