Comedy lost one of its greatest contributors Sunday.
Leslie Nielsen, famous for his film roles in “Airplane!” and as Lt. Frank Drebin in “The Naked Gun” series, died from pneumonia complications at age 84. Known for starring in satirical films and his dry delivery of lines, Nielsen was among a rare breed of film comedians who were truly funny, something that can’t be said for many of today’s stars.
Anyone who has seen “Airplane!” might recall Nielsen’s response to the question, “Surely you can’t be serious?” with “I am serious, and don’t call me Shirley.” That line, in itself, is nothing particularly earth-shattering, but Nielsen’s spot-on comedic timing and delivery cemented it in the pantheon of cinematic funny moments.
How about his quips from “The Naked Gun” franchise? In “The Naked Gun 2½: The Smell of Fear,” Jane Spencer, played by Priscilla Presley, describes a suspect to Nielsen’s character as “a white guy. A moustache. About 6-foot-3,” to which Nielsen responds, “Awfully big moustache.”
There are numerous other quotes, soundbites and YouTube videos of classic Nielsen zingers, but as consumers of comedy films, we should all be remorseful we’ll never experience his brand of humor again. In today’s cinematic comedy climate of poop jokes and Will Ferrell, Nielsen’s style is not only one to be praised, but also one we should all miss.
And his talent didn’t stop at comedy.
Nielsen began his career starring in big-budget pictures, such as “Forbidden Planet” in 1956 and “The Poseidon Adventure” in 1972, cementing his status as a respected and serious actor, before tackling the now career-defining “Airplane!” in 1980.
From there, a career in classic satires led Roger Ebert to deem Nielsen “the Olivier of spoofs.”
And did you know Nielsen was legally deaf? How’s that for impressive? His eardrums were injured by the “deafening” combat noises heard during his World War II tour of duty as a tail gunner with the Royal Canadian Air Force. According to an interview in the National Enquirer (7/30/91) he would be completely “deaf” without his hearing devices.
So the next time you’re sitting in a movie theater watching second-rate comedies of wannabe frat guys getting stupidly drunk or Will Ferrell running around naked, take a second to remember Nielsen. He was one of film’s truest comedians, one who’s now sadly gone — and the genre will never be the same.
Sources / TV Acres & The Lantern