Legendary film and television star Leslie Nielsen passed away on Sunday due to complications from pneumonia. He was surrounded by family and friends in a hospital near his home in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. He was 84 years old.
His nephew broke the news to Winnipeg radio station CJOB and revealed that Nielsen had entered the hospital twelve days prior and that his condition had taken a turn for the worse in the 48 hours before his passing. He died in his sleep at 5:30 p.m. EST.
Nielsen was born in 1926 in Regina, Saskatchewan. At the age of 17, he enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force where he was trained as an aerial gunner. Afterwards, he worked as a DJ at a Calgary, Alberta radio station and later enrolled at the Lorne Greene Academy of Radio Arts in Toronto. While studying there, he was offered a scholarship to the Neighborhood Playhouse – a renowned acting school in New York City.
After appearing in numerous live dramas, Nielsen made his television debut in 1948 on an episode of Studio One. He continued to work steadily as a dramatic actor for the next several years, but not on anything he considered particularly significant. In 1956, he was cast in director Michael Cutiz’s The Vagabond King, and although the film was a box office dud, Nielsen made an impression on producer Nicholas Nayfack, who offered him a role in his next film – Forbidden Planet.
Forbidden Planet was a huge hit for MGM and they quickly locked Nielsen into a long-term contract. He made several films for the studio, including Ransom! and Hot Summer Night before branching out into television. Nielsen made guest appearances on shows like Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The Wild Wild West, and Hawaii Five-O. He also had leading roles in the police dramas The New Breed and The Bold Ones: The Protectors.
In the 1970s, Nielsen appeared in films like The Poseidon Adventure and Project: Kill before making one of his last dramatic performances in City on Fire.
In 1980, Nielsen appeared in Airplane! – a parody film that would forever change the course of his career. His deadpan delivery was a hit with critics and audiences and the film’s producers later cast him as the lead in their television series Police Squad – a show that featured the same brand of absurdist humor.
The series was short-lived, but Nielsen’s Frank Drebin character was resurrected for the 1988 film The Naked Gun: From The Files of Police Squad!. Its success lead to two follow-ups – 1991’s The Naked Gun 2 1/2: The Smell of Fear and 1994’s Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult. A fourth film was considered, but plans never materialized.
The success of the Naked Gun films lead to Nielsen being cast in other spoof films like Spy Hard, Wrongfully Accused, and more recently Scary Movie 3, Scary Movie 4, and Superhero Movie.
Although some expressed disappointment with the way Nielsen had been typecast during the latter part of his career, the actor had no regrets. He insisted that comedy was always what he had wanted to do.
Screen Rant would like to express our sincere condolences to the friends and family of Mr. Nielsen.
R.I.P. Leslie Nielsen: February 11th, 1926 – November 28th, 2010.