Leslie William Nielsen OC (11 February 1926 – 28 November 2010) was a Canadian-born actor and comedian. Originally trained at Toronto's Neighborhood Playhouse, he first became known as a dramatic lead debuting in The Vagabond King. Though the movie wasn't a success, Nielsen soon achieved fame as Commander John J. Adams in Forbidden Planet, and subsequently starred in many films and television shows as a romantic or dramatic leading man.
He is, however, best known for his comedic career, starting with a Casting Gag role in Airplane!, where his deadpan delivery in the face of nonstop absurdity stole the film. The film's success rejuvenated his career, and Nielsen soon found himself starring in other comic works, most notably Police Squad! and The Naked Gun. All together, he has appeared in over a hundred films and 1,500 television programs, and was so well-loved as a comical actor that Roger Ebert gave him the Affectionate Nickname "Laurence Olivier of spoofs". (To which Nielsen reportedly responded, "Wouldn't that make Olivier the Leslie Nielsen of Shakespeare?")
In many of his comedic roles, he grew somewhat notorious for keeping his fellow actors (and even the directors) on their toes by concealing and manipulating a whoopee cushion, making farting noises with it at unexpected times, often cracking the whole cast and crew up.
He died of complications from pneumonia in November 2010, at the age of 84.
His epitaph reads: "Let 'er Rip". Because that's how he rolls. When interviewed, he asked what he would want inscribed on his gravestone, and he answered with this. And yes, he added in a perfectly timed squeeze of the whoopee cushion to punctuate the answer. (You can virtually visit his grave on Find A Grave, here.)
His start as a dramatic actor, which eventually transitioned into doing comedies instead. This inspired the name of the trivia item Leslie Nielsen Syndrome (the inversion of Tom Hanks Syndrome) on this very Wiki.
Leslie Nielsen appears in the following works detailed on TV Tropes:
- 2001: A Space Travesty
- Airplane!, where the whole joke to his character was meant to be that he was a serious actor bringing all his chops to utterly absurd lines. Naturally, this is a bit lost today.
- All I Want for Christmas
- Bad Golf Made Easier, Bad Golf My Way, Stupid Little Golf Video
- The Bold Ones The Protectors, an acclaimed crime drama that ran for one season in 1969, starring Nielsen as a deputy police chief from Ohio who is brought to a California city to help clean up its crime and finds himself conflicting with the city's progressive black DA.
- The Canadian Conspiracy, a 1985 HBO Mockumentary which riffs on the fact that his older brother Erik was Deputy Prime Minister to Brian Mulroney, and included a whole bunch of Canadians in Hollywood (including both Lorne Greene and Lorne Michaels, to say nothing of William Shatner and Michael J. Fox) trying to subvert the US government. Yes.
- City on Fire
- Columbo, having played in two films- in the first season as the fiancee of the murderer, and again in the fifth season as a corrupt CIA agent murdered by his own partner.
- Creepshow (One of the few dramatic roles he did post-Airplane! — save the ending of that segment, when he gives the full Nielsen Large Ham comic moment.)
- Day of the Animals
- Due South: Where his character is eventually described as having "an extraordinary resemblance to the Canadian actor and comedian Leslie Nielsen."
- Dracula: Dead and Loving It
- Forbidden Planet
- The Golden Girls: Plays Lucas Williamson, marrying Dorothy in the series finale.
- Katie and Orbie: Narrated every episode with a grandfatherly gentility.
- Kung Fu (1972): Played Vincent Corbino, the main villain of the final four episodes.
- M*A*S*H: He plays a colonel in one episode gaslit into thinking he has battle fatigue and going stateside to cool off.
- Men with Brooms
- Mr. Magoo (live-action movie)
- Mr. Willowby's Christmas Tree
- Police Squad!
- The Naked Gun series, a sequel to Police Squad!
- The Poseidon Adventure
- Prom Night (1980)
- The Reluctant Astronaut
- Safety Patrol
- Scary Movie 3 and 4
- S.P.Q.R.: 2000 and a half years ago, an Italian comedy movie among many starring veteran actors Massimo Boldi and Christian De Sica; this movie — otherwise rather forgettable — is known for having been graced by Leslie Nielsen himself.
- Soul Man
- Stan Helsing
- Superhero Movie
- Surf Ninjas
- Spy Hard
- Viva Knievel!
- Wrongfully Accused
- Wrong is Right
- Zeroman: Voiced the title character.
Leslie Nielsen's career and works demonstrate the following tropes:
- Big Stupid Doo Doo Head: Childish, silly insults were frequently employed by his comedic characters, with the humorous effect greatly enhanced by Nielsen's dry and dramatic delivery.
- Celebrity Resemblance: In an episode of the 80s program An Evening At The Improv, Leslie commented that throughout his career, people have mistaken him for Lloyd Bridges.note When he would correct them, that he's Leslie Nielsen, many peoples' response would be along the lines of "But didn't you play Lloyd Bridges in a movie?"
- The Comically Serious: Nielsen rebuilt himself as a comedian exactly because him saying absurd lines in a serious tone turned out to be hilarious.
- It can be very jarring for those who've only seen his comedic roles to come across his earlier, dramatic performances. He was a highly skilled dramatic actor, and when playing psychopaths or other hardened characters, he brought a chilling intensity to the role.
- Cool Old Guy: Hilariously subverted. While many of his characters have the makings of one, they're ultimately held back by their utter cluelessness and wackiness.
- Deadpan Snarker: A true staple of his comedic chops was in his deadpan deliveries. While this trope was associated with many of his films, none hold a candle to his portrayal of Frank Drebin in The Naked Gun.
- End of an Age: 1987's Nuts has the distinction of being Nielsen's final dramatic acting role.
- Funny Background Event: Sometimes unconnected with what Nielsen's character is doing, more often something he inadvertently sets off and then carries on in the background of his main scene.
- The Heavy: Before Airplane!, thanks to his rugged body and deep, masculine voice, he was always typecast as this.
- I Was Quite a Looker: In The '50s, such as in Forbidden Planet◊. He later turned into a Silver Fox of sorts.
- Leslie Nielsen Syndrome: The Trope Namer, of course, surely the change starting with Airplane!. (And don't call him Shirley!)
- Literal-Minded: Frequently a gag for him.
- Market-Based Title: In Spain, some of his comedic movies are renamed to "verb related to the movie" + como puedas (as you can):
- Airplane!: Aterriza como puedas ("Land As You Can")
- The Naked Gun: Agárralo como puedas ("Grab It As You Can")
- Spy Hard: Espía como puedas ("Spy As You Can")
- Family Plan: Acampa como puedas ("Camp As You Can")
- 2001: A Space Travesty: 2001: Despega como puedas ("Take Off As You Can")
- Kevin of the North: Esquía como puedas ("Ski As You Can")
- No Sense of Humor: Allegedly, the reason Leslie was so good with his famous deadpan delivery was because he genuinely didn't understand the comedy behind the lines he was given, similar to stories about Margaret Dumont. However, see all the stories about the whoopee cushion.
- Reasonable Authority Figure: Many of his roles. Once the comedian phase begun, because doctors/priests/policemen/presidents saying ridiculous things help the hilarity.
- Straight Man: His signature style.
- Tom Hanks Syndrome: Inverted. He'd always been frustrated by being The Heavy in films, and delighted in finally being able to show off his comedic chops.
- Took the Bad Film Seriously: Especially towards the end of his career, he started featuring in worse and worse movies... and was consistently a highlight in them. Even before then, he gave a perfect delivery to every bit of Rapid-Fire Comedy he was handed.Seanbaby: Some of the jokes he saves in The Naked Gun movies should be verified by the Catholic church as miracles. For example, he once looked up a woman's dress, told her she had a nice beaver and he was talking about a taxidermy prop. If he can make that hilarious, surely you have to consider him for comedic sainthood.
- Troll: On set, Nielsen was reportedly a major practical joker — and unlike many of this trope, everyone enjoyed it.