This is deeply and intensely personal. I’m not sure that I will ever share this publicly, but this may be for my own catharsis.
Leslie Nielsen was an actor who meant a lot to me. As a kid, I would do my reruns every day: Saved By the Bell, Growing Pains, The Cosby Show, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Family Matters, Step By Step (Don’t judge; I was a kid and then later in love with Angela Watson and older Christine Lakin.). But eventually, I grew out of those and discovered the world of film. In a time where everybody watched Ace Ventura: Pet Detective (which I still do not get), I always gravitated toward to the satires. Hot Shots!, Scary Movie (even though they still owe me money for that piece of crap), Not Another Teen Movie. And you can’t really do the history of satires without speaking of Leslie Nielsen.
As a young lad, I discovered Airplane! on tv. It was mesmerizing, like I had discovered a movie written specifically for me. And of all the great moments-June Billingsley speaking Jive, Peter Graves hitting on the little kid while the kid criticized Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Robert Hays’ “drinking problem”- few eclipsed Leslie Nielsen’s great moments in that film. “It’s an entirely different kind of flying altogether.” “A hosital? What is it?” “It’s a big building with patients, but that’s not important right now.” And good enough for #79 on the AFI’s top movie quotes, “I am serious…and don’t call me Shirley.”
Then I discovered The Naked Gun. This was another movie made just for me (it seemed). Nielsen was spot-on in this movie. Maybe I lose my American citizenship, but one of my favorite parts of that movie is the botched National Anthem. When I hear the National Anthem, I still sing (to myself) “Lots of bombs in the air.”
Nielsen just had a seriousness to him that nobody could ever top. That is why he was so successful in Airplane!, The Naked Gun & Spy Hard and the like.
I would short-change him if I did not talk about his dramatic roles, too. The Poseidon Adventure is one of my favorite 70’s disaster flicks (if not my very favorite). The one where he really grabbed my attention was Creepshow. That was when he buried Ted Danson up to his head in sand at low tide and watched him die. (Apparently, he had discovered an advanced copy of “Getting Even With Dad” and wanted to stop that from coming out.) A few months ago, I discovered “The Forbidden Planet.” I had my wife watch part of it with me. She didn’t recognize him, as our Leslie Nielsen was the white-haired Frank Drebin.
When I think of comedic actors who mean the most to me, my Mount Rushmore is Bill Cosby, Red Skelton, Neil Simon & Leslie Nielsen. That is very good company to be in.
I would like to thank Leslie Nielsen for his many years of service and thank you for making me laugh.