It wasn't rare to see him strolling through the airport with a smile or shopping at CVS or dining with family in the restaurants near the 17th Street Causeway, not far from where he lived. In South Florida, a land full of Canadian snowbirds, there was no more famous or funnier Canadian than Leslie Nielsen.
News broke yesterday afternoon that Nielsen died of pneumonia in a Fort Lauderdale hospital, surrounded by family. He was 84.
Leslie Nielsen will be missed across South Florida and throughout all of North America. He was, without doubt, the best spoof film actor of all time. Roger Ebert once called him "the Olivier of spoofs." ("I guess that would make Laurence Olivier the Leslie Nielsen of Shakespeare," Nielsen joked in 2008.)
For an entire generation that grew up consuming Nielsen's deadpan, PG-13 comedy, he will forever epitomize
that good-natured, silly genre of entertainment -- the humor that grows out of pointing out the absurdity in language and entertainment itself. In many ways, his style paved the way for the kind of comedy in shows like The Simpsons and Family Guy. And from all accounts, he seemed like a genuinely nice guy. For many, Nielsen seems like a delightful family member they've never met. (He was also a friend of the New Times newsroom -- sort of, depending on how loosely you define friend.)
Some even suggested fellow Canadian-South Floridian Celine Dion name her newborn twin boys "Leslie" and "Nielsen." (Sadly, she didn't, though "Eddy" and "Nelson" aren't too far off.)
His entertainment career stretched back into another era. His IMDB page is longer than most college essays. He started as a contract television actor, making more than 100 television appearances in 1950 alone -- and more than 1,500 in his career. He was in more than 100 movies, starting in the mid-'50s with mostly dramas and working through last year's vampire parody Stan Helsing, in which he made an appearance in drag.
Though most of his more recent films did not reach the same kind of mass audiences he got with 1980's Airplane! (his first comedic movie role and an especially entertaining movie in light of today's travel woes) or the Naked Gun movies, Nielsen is responsible for several of the all-time funniest moments in American cinema.
To name just a few:
"...And don't call me Shirley."
Surely this is already one of the most quoted scenes of all time.
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Complimenting Priscilla Presley's beaver
She just had it stuffed.
The late-'80s idea of safe sex
With Elvis Presley's wife.
Saving the Queen, dressed as an umpire
"It's Enrico Pallazzo!"
Farewell, Mr. Nielsen. You will live forever in our hearts.