The Montreal Alouettes may have won the Grey Cup yesterday, but the news on the lips of every Canadian — and everyone around Hollywood — was that Leslie Nielsen had passed away at the age of 84.
The actor, who boasted over one hundred television and movie credits, began his career as a serious dramatic actor starring in the likes of “The Forbidden Planet” and “The Poseidon Adventure” as well as appearing in programs such as “Columbo,” “Kojak,” “M.A.S.H.,” “Hawaii Five-O” and “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” (and yes, he even made an appearance on the cult Canadian program “The Littlest Hobo“). Essentially, if you needed someone who could wear a suit and deliver a line with authority, he was your man. However, it would be his ability to take his gift for pitch-perfect line readings to deadpan comedic heights that found his career revitalized as a comedy actor. The breakthrough came with “Airplane!” in 1980, a parody of “Airport” and other likeminded disaster flicks of the 1970s.
From there, Nielsen would star in the shortlived “Police Squad!,” a riff on police procedurals of the area and while it would only last a scant six episodes (and later developed a cult following), it would serve as the catalyst for what became his best-known and most beloved work, “The Naked Gun” trilogy. “The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad!,” “The Naked Gun 2 ½: The Smell of Fear” and “The Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult” were a highly successful trio of films that along with “Airplane!” and “Police Squad!” form his most recognized and cherished work.
The films allowed Nielsen to find a new niche in the genre of parody films appearing in the likes of “Repossessed,” “Dracula: Dead and Loving It,” “Spy Hard,” “Wrongfully Accused” and “2001: A Space Travesty.” And while those films weren’t quite worthy of his considerable talents, the new crop of parody filmmakers cast him in “Scary Movie 3” and “Scary Movie 4” where he played the politically incorrect, paranoid President of the United States. One of Nielsen’s final appearances will be in “Scary Movie 5” where once again reprises his role.
Nielsen relished his late career turn as a comedic actor and was one of Canada’s favorite screen stars. In 2003, he became an Officer of the Order of Canada (like a Canadian knighthood). Nielsen was battling pneumonia in Fort Lauderdale hospital when he passed away in his sleep on Sunday, and is survived by his fourth wife Barbaree Earl and his daughters Maura Nielsen Kaplan and Thea Nielsen Disney. [The National Post/New York Times]