Don’t call him Shirley: Remembering Leslie William Nielsen (1926-2010)

What is it about celebrity deaths that affects us little people so much? It’s completely ridiculous of course, to care about the death of someone you never knew. But for a film geek like me when it comes to actors, especially ones lucky enough to have long thriving careers, it’s hard not to feel like you do have a certain kind of relationship with them. You invest your time and money to sit in a movie theatre, and watch them onscreen. You invite them into your home when you turn on the television or put in a DVD. If the actor really turns you on, this can last for years. Who cares if it’s all based on lies and illusion, aren’t most real relationships like that anyways?

Leslie Nielsen was one of those actors that over the years I invited into my home on a regular basis. On Sunday November 28th, Nielsen died in his sleep in Fort Lauderdale at the age of 84. There are many reasons to admire this recently departed actor. I’ve always respected the Canadian born Nielsen most because while he did make the move to la la land, he continued to star in Canadian productions. Sadly of course this cannot be said for most Canadian actors who make the move to Hollywood.

Check out a clip from one of my favourite Canadian comedies co-starring Nielsen, Men with Brooms (sadly youtube has stupidly disabled the embed code so I can’t just put it up on our site).

Nielsen began his career in the late forties with serious roles in dramas, westerns and romance. The truth is besides The Poseidon Adventure (1972) I haven’t watched any of Nielsen’s dramatic films, and even seeing one serious Nielsen role was weird enough. For my generation and anyone else born after the eighties Nielsen will always be remembered as a comedic actor. The turning point in Nielsen’s career came in 1980 with the hilarious Airplane! While it’s hard for me to think of him as a dramatic actor for audiences at the time it was quite a shock to see Nielsen goof around.

Nielsen’s  greatest moments as a spoof comedian came in the nineties when he made the classic Naked Gun series. Screw that scary movie series (which come on, was GOD awful). The spoof genre wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for Nielsen’s popularity with the Airplane and Naked Gun series, and honestly none of them have even come close to matching the brilliance of his films…

Rest in peace Nielsen. I hope if there is a heaven, your now up there having a couple of laughs with Buster Keaton, Groucho Marx and Laurel and Hardy. While our relationship may now be over in some ways, at least you’ll always be part of my DVD collection.

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