Leslie Nielsen, whom the modern audiences know as a hilarious comedian from the films like “Airplane!” and “Naked Gun” franchise, died today at the age of 84 from complications from pneumonia he contracted while battling a staph infection.
Nielsen was born on February 11, 1926 in Saskatchewan province, Canada. He served in the Royal Canadian Air Force before becoming a radio announcer and DJ. Thanks to a scholarship at New York’s Neighborhood Playhouse, he studied acting with Sanford Meisner and dance with Martha Graham.
His TV career began in the 1950 and quickly led to leading parts in the movies. His height and good looks landed modern hero roles in films such as sci-fi classic “Forbidden Planet.” However for the next 20 years, Nielsen remained mostly a TV star, often playing serious and commanding parts.
He was doing guest appearances on the TV shows “The Love Boat” and “Fantasy Island” when filmmakers David and Jerry Zucker and Jim Abrahams saw him as a perfect comic talent for their spoof “Airplane!”. They hit the jackpot – Nielsen’s Dr. Rumack, the physician aboard a slowly falling plane, turned out to be both a major factor in making the film into a surprise hit, and a big career change for Nielsen. No longer destined to be playing captains or somebody’s grandfathers, he got himself a solemn comic character he would reprise, under different aliases, in a great number of films. The most significant among the latter was “The Naked Gun” franchise where Nielsen played the part he’s most remembered for – that of lieutenant Frank Drebin. Nielsen continued making guest appearances in movies, often spoof films, including “Scary Movie 3 and 4” up until his death.
Nielsen has been ill over a week, being treated for a staph infection in a Fort Lauderdale hospital when he contracted pneumonia. His nephew Doug Nielsen announced his death by calling to Manitoba radio station, CJOB on Sunday, sting that “today at 5:30, with his friends and his wife, Barbaree, by his side, he just fell asleep and passed away.”