Take a moment. Look at this photo.
Airplane! surely was a great film. The Naked Gun trilogy surely brings some of the funniest moments in movie history. And Leslie Nielsen? Surely one of the greatest comedians of our generation.
We just said “surely” three times. Did you finish the exchange with the computer just now?
News came late last night that Leslie Nielsen, dramatic-actor-turned-parody-prodigy, died in his sleep after a bout with pneumonia. He was 84-years-old.
We’re unsure if the comedy world will ever be the same. Then again, surely we can’t be serious.
It is a difficult task to write about a comedian who has recently passed. Weaving an accolade of respect and humor, one has to tread the comedy line lightly – keep a straight face and deliver the facts and let the world around us spirals into absurdity. One can only let the farce be recognized through the window of a wink, as if to say, “Don’t worry. We’re all in on this joke together.“
Spanning a career of nearly 60 years, Leslie Nielsen did just that.
Beginning his career as a dramatic actor on the silver screen and television, Nielsen grew a rapid reputation as a leading man. His good looks and charm gave him the opportunity to star in roles in Forbidden Planet, The Poseidon Adventure, and even guest spots on Hawaii Five-O – Scott Caan was always happy to share a wave with Mr. Nielsen.
His reputation for a deadpan delivery with stoic expertise manifested itself into parody gold. Accepting a role in the 1980 masterpiece Airplane!, Nielsen gave his career a much-needed kick in the rump. Without even realizing it, he showed the world that nothing was too solemn to be taken too seriously – the birth of the movie parodies. And Nielsen became The Godfather.
Following Airplane! with The Naked Gun chronicles sealed the deal. Nielsen lived in a world of constant preposterousness, yet he never took notice. It was beautiful. While his later films became more about the parody and less about the absurdity, Nielsen always approached each role with style and grace, crafting over 200 different characters – anything from The President to Dracula to Mr. Magoo.
There will never be another Leslie Nielsen, nor should there ever be. Surely he was the real deal. With him the parody will never be the same. Nor will O.J. Simpson’s career. One thing is for sure though: Leslie Nielsen is a man, a myth, a legend, and a comedic inspiration.
And don’t call him Shirley.