Leslie Nielsen 1926-2010

I was sitting in my living room, laughing about something, when I looked over at my computer and saw the news that Leslie Nielsen had died Sunday at 84 of complications from pneumonia. My laughter got stuck in my throat and turned into a lump. This was confusing to me because if this man ever made me cry before, it was from laughing too hard.

I’ll admit I didn’t know him from his earlier dramatic work, such as guest starring on TV shows like Barnaby Jones, S.W.A.T., Hawaii Five-0, Columbo, and The Streets of San Francisco, all of which I watched as a child. But I clearly remember the afternoon I went to see Airplane! at the movie theater. Nielsen’s stern-faced, clueless Dr. Rumack helped me understand the term “crack me up” because I thought my bladder would split from all the laughter. And I have very strong, camel-strength bladders, mind you.

My fandom followed Nielsen to his Police Squad! series, in which the actor delighted me by making his Lieutenant Frank Drebin even more of a dunce than Dr. Rumack. I threw a tantrum when the show was criminally canceled after only six episodes and then rejoiced when it was brought back on the big screen as The Naked Gun movies.

I know Nielsen’s career spanned six decades and encompassed much more than these comic highlights. He never stopped working; his last credit is voicing an untitled animated movie with a 2011 release date. But I appreciate him most for all the hilarity he brought into my life. I don’t think Dr. Rumack managed to help many patients with his ineptitude, but if laughter truly is the best medicine, then Leslie Nielsen kept legions of fans in very good health.



  • Reply
    Naomi Johnson
    November 28, 2010 at 7:49 pm

    I’ll never hear the phrase, “surely you jest,” without thinking of Leslie Nielsen in AIRPLANE!

    • Reply
      Pop Culture Nerd
      November 28, 2010 at 7:54 pm

      I have a friend named Shirley and I say that to her sometimes because I know she can’t say, “Don’t call me Shirley!”

  • Reply
    Coffee and a Book Chick
    November 28, 2010 at 8:06 pm

    Oh, my goodness — this is horrible, and I’m literally feeling the same sadness at this time. I do only know him from his comedic work of the past thirty years. I guess I’m also just stunned to see the fabulous actors and actresses and singers, etc., that I grew up with who are now passing on. Such a sad day.

    • Reply
      Pop Culture Nerd
      November 28, 2010 at 9:24 pm

      Can you stand it that both Captain Oveur and Dr. Rumack from Airplane! are now gone?

  • Reply
    November 28, 2010 at 9:53 pm

    Nice tribute to an underrated and very versatile actor. When I first caught him on television as a kid, he was in that character actor/villain span of his. Then, I finally saw his J.J. Adams in FORBIDDEN PLANET. Later, you could clearly see the role was the precursor STAR TREK’s Captain Kirk. He always contributed so well to whatever genre he participated in. I know I’m going to miss him greatly as time goes by. May he rest in peace. Thanks, Elyse.

  • Reply
    Brett Battles
    November 29, 2010 at 7:33 am

    Amen. He was one of the great comedic actors, something I don’t think he initially set out to be. Loved POLICE SQUAD and AIRPLANE.

  • Reply
    November 29, 2010 at 10:05 am

    He was always a joy to watch onscreen. I’m sure he died making someone smile.

  • Reply
    Shell Sherree
    November 30, 2010 at 12:21 am

    It always hurts to lose someone who’s brought so much laughter into the world. That’s what I know him for ~ mostly The Naked Gun and Airplane! {or Flying High! as it was released in Australia.} Here’s to happy memories.

  • Reply
    December 1, 2010 at 8:55 am

    Before Airplane!, the first time I heard of him was when the movie The Poseidon Adventure came out (1978). In the trailers, they would name off all the big stars (back when they made big star ensemble movies like Airport and The Towering Inferno) and they ended with, “And staring Leslie Nielsen as ‘The Captain’.” He had about a minute of screen time, by the way.

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