Closing Credits: Leslie Nielsen
Leslie Nielsen the actor and comedy dead-pan genius, has died aged eighty four. He is undoubtedly best known for his comedy roles in Airplane! and The Naked Gun series, but there is a lot more to him than that, and when he started out in acting he was very much the dramatic actor, and with chiselled, rugged looks and towering at over six foot, he could well have been a leading man of Hollywood.
However we most know him for those roles in the latter half of his career, and the defining comedy films of The Naked Gun and more importantly Airplane! - classic films that when I heard clips from this morning with the news of his death, had me laughing out loud again, which I think is what Nielsen would have wanted.
Leslie Nielsen was born in 1926 and was in the Canadian Mounted Police, a radio announcer and a DJ before he studied acting and began his career with stage and television roles. It's fair to say that television dominated the first half of his career and he appeared in many shows, in fact you could reel off the classics through the sixties and seventies and see his name appear in at least one episode - Rawhide, The Untouchables, The Virginian, The Streets of San Francisco, to name but a few.
However he was destined for the big screen and the first role you probably all know him from is Forbidden Planet. No? Well you watch it again and you'll get a surprise to see him in the 1956 film as Commander J. J. Adams. It's the kind of film that you go back to watch and suddenly realise that it's him.
From here his dramatic film career took a step forward and we saw him take bigger roles with The Opposite Sex in the same year, Hot Summer Night and leading alongside Debbie Reynolds in Tammy in 1957. Films such as Night Train to Paris in 1964, Counterpoint in 1967 led by Charlton Heston, The Poseidon Adventure in 1972, and Viva Knievel! in 1977 weren't huge but gained him a lot of notice as a supporting and leading actor.
So came Airplane! in 1980, the classic film that contains so many famous quotes that we're reading and hearing across every obituary and still doesn't fail to at least raise a smile, or in my case laugh out loud. I can't begin to explain how much I love that film. I think it's the film I've watched the most times in my life, and it still makes me laugh.
I remember sitting watching it with my friend Stu many years ago, probably for the fifteenth time or more, and us spotting a new joke in the background that we'd never seen before. It's so bad that we know the jokes off by heart and my best man Lee even threw them into his speech, although only a few of us joined in the old "both together" jokes!
While Airplane! is comedy gold and marks one of the highest moments of his career, there are more roles that he's famous for.
Does anyone remember his piece in Creepshow as the jealous husband who gets his revenge on his wife and lover only to be visited by his own rather squelchy revenge? I remember seeing that and being surprised by the fact that this was the same guy I loved in Airplane!, and a look back in his career reminded me just what a serious dramatic actor he began his career as.
However, that was the old Leslie Nielsen, the new one was fast becoming the dead-pan comic genius, and while Airplane! was out there just beginning to take the first steps towards classic comedy he turned back to television and created the foundation for what would become The Naked Gun series, Police Squad!, in color! Here's the introduction from one of the episodes, even this makes me laugh.
I loved that television series, and it's amazing to look back and realise that only six episodes were ever made. Just six. Yet this created the character of Frank Drebin and the joke fuelled world he lived in which brought out the three Naked Gun films The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad!, The Naked Gun 2½: The Smell of Fear and Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult.
It is fair to say they did go downhill from the first film, but The Naked Gun is hilarious, but for me the Police Squad! series still stands out as having the better comedy and the more laughs per minute. That show had some genius moments, many of which are copied for The Naked Gun films.
I started writing "two stand out moments for me…" and then I wrote three, then four, now I'm going to give up. There were many stand out moments in those short six episodes - the opening killing of the star of the show, the ballistics test in the bank, the gunfight from behind the bins, the closing freeze frame, and so on.
It wasn't just the excellent writing that made the show so good, for the most part it was down to Leslie Nielsen's dead-pan delivery and his wonderful facial expressions. He nailed the part of Frank Drebin and there was no way that the character could continue without him.
The Naked Gun films didn't leap to him straight after Police Squad! however. That television series arrived in 1982 and The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad! didn't appear until 1988. Between that time he was in several films and television series, and continued his dramatic tilt with films such as Nuts in 1987.
However by this time his card was marked, and comedy became his staple with the second Naked Gun arriving in 1991 and the third in 1994, although by then though, the jokes were wearing a little thin.
It was sad to see some of the terrible comedy films that Nielsen appeared in from there on, but I think it would be impossible to imagine anything ranking up there with Airplane!, Police Squad! and The Naked Gun.
Leslie Nielsen, you'll be bringing us all laughter for years and years to come, and I salute you for the hundreds upon hundreds of laughs you've brought me and my friends. You were indeed a different kind of comic actor all together.