Leslie Nielsen 1926 – 2010
A short tribute from the writers of The 405 to one of the funniest men of any generation and a true silver screen legend. Stephen: Although best remembered for his comedy performances in numerous timeless classics such as Spy Hard and The Naked Gun series, Nielsen began his acting career in the early fifties. He became most recognised as a serous actor though roles in The Poseidon Adventure and Forbidden Planet and gave a truly terrifying performance in Creepshow, however it was with comedy that he found his true calling. And the film that began it all was Airplane. Airplane is regarded as one of the greatest comedy films of all times containing classic dialogue from every cast member. (“looks like I picked the wrong week to quit sniffing glue!”) However, Nielsen, in his break-through comedy role, steals the show with his deadpan delivery and some of the most classic lines in film history: Nielsen is at best the third or fourth lead in this film and yet manages to completely dominates every scene that he’s in with his sheer presence of personality and aura of brilliance. In Dr. Rumack, Nielsen is flawless and succeeded in creating one of the most quoted characters in film: Stryker: “Surely you can’t be serious..?” Rumack: “I am serious. And don’t call me Shirley”
The next role that Nielsen will undoubtedly never be forgotten for is as the incredibly funny Detective Frank Drebin in The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad. The 1988 film was based on a short lived television series six years prior and succeeds in almost toppling Airplane as Nielsen’s greatest work by providing almost as many memorable moments and quotable lines of speech; Drebin: Wilma, I promise you. Whatever scum did this, not one man on this force will rest for one minute until he's behind bars. Now let's grab a bite to eat. The film was a huge success and was followed by two sequels that are almost as funny as the original: Drebin: Just think, the next time I shoot somebody I could be arrested. The trilogy succeeded in lifting Nielsen to the legendary comic status that he deserved. Nielsen followed his role as Frank Drebin by teaming up with comedy idol Mel Brooks in Dracula: Dead and Loving it The comedy marvel then starred in the spy movie genre spoof Spy Hard and the classic Mr. Magoo. However he will more recently be remembered for his role as the President of the United States in Scary Movie 3. Nielsen was able to revamp a dying franchise and ensured that the films had a fourth attempt, in which Nielsen also appeared and promptly proved to be pretty much the only reason worth watching either of them. Nielsen’s career may have faded in the last few years but his death will still come as a huge loss to the world of comedy and movies as a whole. However, this is one a comedy legend that will be always in our DVD collections and forever in our hearts.
Dylan: Although no doubt a fantastic comic actor, my favourite performance by Nielson was in the mid-eighties horror film Creepshow. He played a cuckolded husband who devises a plan to bury his wife and lover alive. When they are both up to their heads in sand with the tide coming in, he delivers a monologue which is truly chilling. Nielson may have been silly, but he had a real talent for his art, and it’s sad to think another performance isn’t just around the corner. Tara: Even when I was just a child I was aware that Leslie Nielsen was a very funny man. But it wasn't until, as a grown woman, when I watched him play Commander J.J. Adams in Forbidden Planet (1956) alongside Robby the robot, that I realised Leslie Nielsen was also an absolute fitty. Having since had to wrestle with being inordinately attracted to a now old man whose innuendo and fart jokes have become legendary, I am, as much as any child of the '80s is sure to be, very sad to hear of his passing away. And despite his more serious roles as a dashing, debonair gent, it will always be Airplane! that truly tickles me in that very special place. Shirley that's not quite right...? Rumack: You'd better tell the Captain we've got to land as soon as we can. This woman has to be gotten to a hospital. Elaine Dickinson: A hospital? What is it? Rumack: It's a big building with patients, but that's not important right now. Marya My favorite of his films will always be Airplane! (though I do have a soft spot for Dracula: Dead and Loving It). A few months ago I saw Forbidden Planet for the first time and it was quite an experience seeing Nielson play a character completely straight - not one bit of what he did was for laughs. It was almost like discovering a whole new actor. He will be sorely missed. Danny The thing about tributes is that it's hard not to go over old ground, or simply repeat the sentiments of other writers whom no doubt many of you will have already read. Yet for Leslie Nielsen, whose films I can and have watched near-countless times, going over ground seems perfectly apt. I've not seen all of his films; the bulk of my fevered and forceful recommendations to the un-initiated being being the Hare-Krishna karate chopping Airplane!, the Naked Gun series and even his oft-overlooked but absolutely hysterical Wrongfully Accused; but they're absolutely timeless so no matter when I get around to his others I know that, Shirley, they'll have me guffawing as if I'd seen them at their premieres. Hell if nothing else, just let this be a reminder to go back and laugh at the guy (what he loved best no doubt) and if you've yet to see his best, or worst, then let this act as a little nudge to go do it. Contemporary comedy has no equal.