Leslie Nielsen (1926-2010)

Leslie Nielsen has always been around. At least it feels that way to me. As far back as I can remember, he was a regular part of my television viewing. Seems like he guest-starred on everything -- that is, between series in which he was the star.

In the 1950s, Nielsen was the oh-so-serious male lead. He was a spaceship captain in the science fiction classic Forbidden Planet and the object of Debbie Reynolds’s affections in the romantic comedy Tammy and the Bachelor (one of my favorites). He also became popular as the star of the Disney television series The Swamp Fox, playing Revolutionary War leader Francis Marion. By the mid-1960s, he was beginning to go grey and became a regular presence on television. From westerns such as Rawhide to cop shows like Hawaii Five-O to melodramas Route 66 and Peyton Place, Nielsen was there. He never stuck with one kind of role. He might be the stalwart cop in one series and the nefarious villain in another. (In fact, he starred in three different TV series as a cop – although one show, Police Squad, was hardly serious.) One thing is certain: the man never stopped working. In the 70s Nielsen racked up guest roles on M*A*S*H, Columbo, The Love Boat, among others, even as he also worked in movies such as The Poseidon Adventure. He continued on television in the 80s with series like Murder, She Wrote, The Golden Girls, and Backstairs at the White House.

But also in the 1980s, his career took a dramatic – or should I say comical? – turn. He was cast in the movie Airplane! and, according to some who knew him, Nielsen’s real personality came out. The man was a born comic actor. After Airplane! Nielsen was cast in one comedy after another, including the television series Police Squad. The series failed, but the producers didn’t give up. They went for the big screen and Nielsen carried on there as brilliantly inept police detective Frank Drebin in the Naked Gun series of movies.

Although he would occasionally return to a somewhat serious role, as in the series Due South, Nielsen spent most of the time in comedy, from mainstream Men with Brooms to spoof films Scary Movie 3 and Superhero Movie. He was often interviewed on news and talk shows, where he was notorious for playing with a Whoopee Cushion, to the amusement – and sometimes embarrassment – of his interviewers. But Nielsen was never one to pass up the opportunity for a joke – even a crude one.

I’m going to miss just knowing that Nielsen is around. I might even miss that silly Whoopee Cushion routine of his.

I know what you're thinking about that last sentence.

Surely you can't be serious!

Well, you know what my answer is to that.

I am serious. And don't call me Shirley.