The Pursuitist is reporting that Naked Gun guy Leslie Nielsen, 84, has died in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. The website was reportedly notified of Nielsen’s passing by his nephew, Doug Nielsen of Richmond, Virginia. Nielsen passed due to “complications from pneumonia.” Nielsen’s comic signature was a classic deadpan response to whatever foolery was put before him.
Neilsen’s comic breakthrough was in Airplane (1980), particularly when he said, “I am serious, and don’t call me Shirley.” His delivery always said “I’m letting you, the audience, know I’m being ‘funny’ without my character clearly indicating any awareness of anything other than the apparent facts of the matter…hmm?”
Nielsen’s two coolest straight roles were (a) the spaceship captain in Forbidden Planet and (b) Francis Marion in the Disney miniseries The Swamp Fox . His Wiki bio notes that in a 1988 interview, Neilsen called it “a great experience because the Disney people didn’t do their shows like everyone else, knocking out an episode a week. […] We only had to do an episode a month, and the budgets were extremely high for TV at that time. So we had location shooting rather than cheap studio backdrops, and very authentic costumes.” Eight episodes were produced and aired between 1959 and 1961.”
I passed out Michael Dukakis literature in the Hollywood hills in either September or October of 1988. On eweekend I knocked on the door of a large home at the top of a hill that was off Franklin Avenue, and Neilsen answered. He was in his early 60s at the time, and was wearing only swimming trunks and flip-flops. I must have been surprised (“Oh my God, it’s Frank Drebin!”) but I’m guessing I didn’t show it. Neilsen said nothing at all, giving me one of those “so…can I help you?” looks. I mumbled something about Dukakis and handed him the brochure and that was it.
Neisen had 84 good years, and eight or ten exceptional years as a major cultural figure. His passing is big news tonight. I’m sorry, but we all have to go sometime.