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General information  

  • Real name : Leslie William Nielsen
  • Place of birth : Regina
  • Date of birth : 11/02/1927
  • Place of death : Fort Lauderdale
  • Date of death : 28/11/2010

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  • Nielsen Leslie

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Leslie Nielsen (1927)

Leslie William Nielsen

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  Summary  

Leslie William Nielsen, OC (11 February 1926– 28 November 2010) was a Canadian and naturalized American actor and comedian. Nielsen appeared in more than one hundred films and 1,500 television programs over the span of his career, portraying more than 220 characters. Born in Regina, Saskatchewan, Nielsen enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force and worked as a disc jockey before receiving a scholarship to Neighborhood Playhouse. Making his television debut in 1948, he quickly expanded to over 50 television appearances two years later. Nielsen made his film debut in 1956, and began collecting roles in dramas, westerns, and romance films from the 1950s to the 1970s. Nielsen's performances in the films Forbidden Planet and The Poseidon Adventure received positive reviews as a serious actor, though he is primarily known for his comedic roles.

Although Nielsen's acting career crossed a variety of genres in both television and films, his deadpan delivery in Airplane! marked a turning point in his career, one that would make him, in the words of film critic Roger Ebert, "the Olivier of spoofs." Nielsen enjoyed further success with The Naked Gun film series, based on an earlier short-lived television series Police Squad! in which he starred. His portrayal of serious characters seemingly oblivious to their absurd surroundings gave him a reputation as a comedian. In the final years of his career, Nielsen appeared in multiple spoof and parody films, many of which were met poorly by critics, but performed well in box office and home media releases. Nielsen married four times and had two daughters from his second marriage. He was recognized with a variety of awards throughout his career, and was inducted into the Canada and Hollywood Walks of Fame.

  Biography  

 early life
Nielsen was born on 11 February 1926 in Regina, Saskatchewan. His mother, Mabel Elizabeth (née Davies), was a Welsh immigrant from Fulham, London, and his father, Ingvard Eversen Nielsen, was a Danish-born Constable in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

Nielsen had two brothers; his older brother, Erik Nielsen (1924–2008), was Deputy Prime Minister of Canada during the 1980s. Ingvard was a troubled man who beat his wife and sons, and Leslie longed to escape. As soon as he graduated from high school at 17, he joined the Royal Canadian Air Force, even though he was legally deaf .

His half-uncle, Jean Hersholt, was an actor best known for his portrayal of Dr. Christian in the long-running radio series of the same name and the subsequent television series and films. In a 1994 Boston Globe article, Nielsen explained, "I did learn very early that when I would mention my uncle, people would look at me as if I were the biggest liar in the world. Then I would take them home and show them 8-by-10 glossies, and things changed quite drastically. So I began to think that maybe this acting business was not a bad idea, much as I was very shy about it and certainly without courage regarding it. My uncle died not too long after I was in a position to know him. I regret that I had not a chance to know him better."

Nielsen spent several years living in Fort Norman , Northwest Territories where his father was stationed with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. At the age of 17, following his graduation from Victoria Composite High School in Edmonton, Nielsen enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force and was trained as an aerial gunner during the latter part of World War II . He worked briefly as a disc jockey at a Calgary, Alberta radio station, before enrolling at the Lorne Greene Academy of Radio Arts, Toronto. While studying in Toronto, Nielsen received a scholarship to the Neighborhood Playhouse. He noted, "I couldn't refuse, but I must say when you come from the land of the snow goose, the moose and wool to New York, you're bringing every ton of hayseed and country bumpkin that you packed. As long as I didn't open my mouth, I felt a certain security. But I always thought I was going to be unmasked: 'OK, pack your stuff.' 'Well, what's the matter?' 'We've discovered you have no talent; we're shipping you back to Canada.'" He moved to New York City for his scholarship, studying theater and music at the Neighborhood Playhouse, while performing in summer stock theatre. Afterward, he attended the Actors Studio, until making his first television appearance in 1948 on an episode of Studio One, alongside Charlton Heston, for which he was paid US$75.

 career
 Early career

Nielsen's career began in dramatic roles on television during what is known as "Television's Golden Age", appearing in almost 50 live programs in 1950 alone. Nielsen reported that for his salary that there " was very little gold, we only got $75 or $100 per show." His distinct voice narrated several documentaries and commercials but, with a handful of exceptions, his early work as a dramatic actor was uneventful. Hal Erickson of Allmovie noted, "...much of Nielsen's early work was undistinguished; he was merely a handsome leading man in an industry overstocked with handsome leading men." In 1956 he made his feature film debut in the Michael Curtiz-directed musical film The Vagabond King. In the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Nielsen pointed out that he remembers Curtiz as "a sadist, a charming sadist, but a sadist". Nielsen would go on to call this film "The Vagabond Turkey". Though the film was not a box office success, Nielsen caught the eye of producer Nicholas Nayfack who offered him an audition for a role in the science fiction film Forbidden Planet, resulting in Nielsen being signed to a long-term contract by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer .


Forbidden Planet became an instant success, and roles in other MGM films such as Ransom! , The Opposite Sex and Hot Summer Night followed. In 1957 he won the lead role opposite Debbie Reynolds in the romantic comedy Tammy and the Bachelor, which, as a Chicago Tribune critic wrote in 1998, made people consider Nielsen as both a dramatic actor and a handsome romantic lead. However, dissatisfied with the quality of the films he was offered, calling the studios " a Tiffany, which had forgotten how to make silver", Nielsen left MGM, but not before auditioning for the role of Messala in the 1959 historical piece Ben-Hur. Stephen Boyd was eventually given the role. After leaving the studios, Nielsen landed the lead role in the Disney miniseries The Swamp Fox, as American Revolutionary War hero Francis Marion. In a 1988 interview he reflected on the series, stating, "That was a great experience, because the Disney people didn't do their shows like everyone else, knocking out an episode a week. We only had to do an episode a month, and the budgets were extremely high for TV at that time. We had location shooting rather than cheap studio backdrops, and very authentic costumes." Eight episodes were produced and aired between 1959 and 1961.

His television appearances include parts in Justice, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The Virginian, and The Wild Wild West. In 1961, he was the lead in a taut Los Angeles police drama called The New Breed. In 1968, he had a major role in the pilot film for the popular police series Hawaii Five-O, and later appeared in one of the seventh season episodes. In 1969, he had the leading role as a police officer in The Bold Ones: The Protectors.

In 1972, Nielsen appeared as the ship's captain in the all-star disaster epic The Poseidon Adventure. He also starred in the William Girdler-directed 1977 action film Project: Kill. His last role before portraying mainly comedy roles was the Canadian disaster film City on Fire in which he played a corrupt mayor. In 1980, he guest starred as Sinclair on the CBS miniseries The Chisholms.

 Airplane! and The Naked Gun

Nielsen's supporting role in 1980's Airplane! was a major watershed in his career. The ethos of the movie, a parody of dramatic disaster films such as Zero Hour! and Airport, is largely based on building a comedy around actors who were then known exclusively for their dramatic roles . Nielsen was the movie's linchpin, his deadpan delivery contrasting with the continual absurdity surrounding him. When asked, "Surely you can't be serious?", he responds with a curt, "I am serious. And don't call me Shirley." In several interviews he later reflected on the significance of the comedic line: "I thought it was amusing, but it never occurred to me that it was going to become a trademark. It's such a surprise...the thing comes out, people say, 'What did he say?!'" Nielsen also stated that he was "...pleased and honoured that had a chance to deliver that line." The comedic exchange was at #79 on the American Film Institute's list of Top 100 movie quotes. The American Film Institute also included the film in its list of the top ten comedy films of all time.


Critics praised the film, which also proved to be a success with audiences. The film's directors, Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, and Jerry Zucker, chose Nielsen for the role based on his ability to play "a fish in water", stating that "You could have cast funny people and done it with everybody winking, goofing off, and silly...we wanted people to be oblivious to the comedy." For Nielsen, Airplane! marked a shift from dramatic roles to a new focus on deadpan comedy. When it was suggested that his role in Airplane! was against type, Nielsen protested that he had "always been cast against type before," and that comedy was what he always really wanted to do.

The directors, interested in the success of the new comedy, decided to bring a similar style of comedy to television, casting Nielsen in the lead role in their new series, Police Squad!. The series introduced Nielsen as Frank Drebin, the stereotypical police officer modeled after serious characters in earlier police TV series.

Police Squad's opening sequence was based on the 1950s cop show M Squad, , which opened with footage of a police car roving through an after-dark urban setting with a big band playing a jazz theme song in the background. The voice-over and the show's organization into "acts" with an epilogue was homage to Quinn Martin police dramas including The Fugitive, The Streets of San Francisco, Barnaby Jones, The F.B.I., and Cannon. Much like in Airplane!, Nielsen portrayed a serious character whose one-liners appeared accidental next to the pratfalls and sight gags around him. Although the show was quickly canceled, lasting only six episodes after being juggled between time slots, Nielsen received an Emmy Award nomination for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series.

Non-comedic roles included Prom Night and Creepshow , both horror films. His last dramatic role was as Allen Green, a violent john killed in self-defense by Barbra Streisand's prostitute character, Claudia Draper, in Martin Ritt's courtroom drama Nuts .

Six years after the cancellation of Police Squad!, its directors decided to make a feature length version for theaters. Titled The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad!. The film returned Nielsen to his role as Frank Drebin. It involved a comical scheme of a ruthless drug kingpin using hypnosis in an attempt to assassinate Queen Elizabeth II. Drebin, like the doctor in Airplane!, seemed unaware of the absurdity around him even when unintentionally contributing toward it. Nielsen later said in an interview that he had done many of his own stunts, "You have an idea of how you're going to do something, and it's your vision... unless you do it, it really doesn't stand a chance." This movie grossed over $78 million at the box office and was well-received by critics. Ebert's 3½–star review noted, "You laugh, and then you laugh at yourself for laughing."

The Naked Gun spawned two sequels: The Naked Gun 2½: The Smell of Fear and Naked Gun 33⅓: The Final Insult . Naked Gun 2½ grossed more than the original, with $86,930,400, while Naked Gun 33⅓ grossed $51,132,600 in receipts. Nielsen remained open to the prospects of acting in a fourth Naked Gun film, although he doubted that it would ever be produced—"I don't think so," he said in 2005. "If there hasn't been one by now, I doubt it. I think it would be wonderful."

Nielsen briefly appeared on the World Wrestling Federation program in the summer of 1994 on Monday Night RAW; capitalizing on his Frank Drebin character, Nielsen were hired as "super-sleuths" to unravel the mystery of The Undertaker who had disappeared at January's Royal Rumble event. At SummerSlam 1994, in a Naked Gun parody, they were hot on the case . Although they did not actually find The Undertaker, the case had been closed and thus, they solved the mystery.

 Later comedies
Nielsen attempted a variety of similar roles with none achieving the prominence of Frank Drebin. These films mostly emulated the style of The Naked Gun series with varying degrees of critical and commercial success: many were panned by critics and most performed poorly. In 1986, Nielsen played against recent type as a dramatic character in the comedy, Soul Man. In 1990, Nielsen also appeared as a Frank Drebin-style character in a series of advertisements in the United Kingdom for Red Rock Cider.

Although The Naked Gun series parodied police dramas in general, Nielsen's later parody films focused on specific targets. Critics panned Repossessed and 2001: A Space Travesty , parodies of The Exorcist and 2001: A Space Odyssey, respectively. Both films attempted the absurdist comedy Nielsen is recognized for, but were poorly received. Even a leading role in a Mel Brooks comic horror parody, Dracula: Dead and Loving It, failed to generate much box office excitement, although it did gain somewhat of a following on its later release to video. Both 1996's Spy Hard and 1998's Wrongfully Accused, a parody of James Bond films and The Fugitive, respectively, received more popularity on home video but were not well-received by critics.

His attempt at children's comedies met with additional criticism. Surf Ninjas and Mr. Magoo faced scathing reviews. Several critics were disappointed that Nielsen's role in Surf Ninjas was only "an extended cameo" and film critic Chris Hicks recommended that viewers "...avoid any comedy that features Leslie Nielsen outside of the Naked Gun series." Jeff Miller of the Houston Chronicle panned Mr. Magoo, a live action remake of the 1950s cartoon, by saying, "I'm supposed to suggest how the film might be better but I can't think of anything to say other than to make the film again."

Nielsen's first major slapstick success since The Naked Gun came in a supporting role in Scary Movie 3 . His appearance as President Harris proved popular enough for a second appearance in its sequel, Scary Movie 4 . This became the first time Nielsen reprised a character since his appearances as Frank Drebin. In one scene, Nielsen appeared almost fully nude, and one critic referred to the scene as putting "the 'scary' in Scary Movie 4."

Nielsen also hosted a series of instructional golf videos beginning with 1993's Bad Golf Made Easier. The videos were not serious, instead combining absurdist comedy with golf techniques. The series were popular enough to spawn two additional sequels, Bad Golf My Way and Stupid Little Golf Video . Nielsen also co-wrote a fictional autobiography titled The Naked Truth. The book portrayed Nielsen as a popular actor with a long history of prestigious films.

 Final years

Even in his eighties, Nielsen continued to have an active career. He performed serious roles on screen and stage (such as his one-man theatre show Darrow, in which he played Clarence Darrow), as well as providing voice-overs and on-camera appearances for commercials; cartoons like Zeroman where he had the leading role/voice; children's shows, such as Pumper Pups, which he narrated, in addition to comedic film roles. The sibling relationship with his elder brother, the Honourable Erik Nielsen, a former Deputy Prime Minister of Canada, served as the premise of an HBO mockumentary entitled The Canadian Conspiracy in which Leslie Nielsen appeared, along with other prominent Canadian-born media personalities. He was a celebrity contestant on CBS's Gameshow Marathon, where he played The Price is Right, Let's Make a Deal, Beat the Clock, and Press Your Luck for charity.

Beginning in February 2007, Nielsen began playing a small role as a doctor in the humorous yet educational television show Doctor*Ology. The show chronicles real-life medical techniques and technology, and airs on the Discovery Channel. In an interview, Nielsen admitted his admiration for the doctors on the show: "There are any number of things that you think about when you ponder if you hadn't been an actor, what would you be, and I've always said I'd like to be an astronaut or a doctor. I have such admiration for doctors. I just don't know how you go around to thank them enough for coming up with the world's most remarkable new discoveries."

In 2007, Nielsen starred in the drama Music Within. In 2008, he portrayed a version of Uncle Ben for Superhero Movie, a spoof of superhero films. He then appeared in the 2008 parody film An American Carol, which David Zucker directed, produced, and co-wrote. He appeared in the 2009 parody Stan Helsing. Nielsen portrayed the Doctor in the Spanish horror comedy Spanish Movie, a spoof comedy like Scary Movie, but making fun of popular Spanish films.

Nielsen appeared in over 100 films and 1,500 television programs over the span of his career, portraying over 220 characters.

 personal life
Nielsen married four times: Monica Boyar (1950–1956), Alisande Ullman (1958–1973), Brooks Oliver (1981–1983) and Barbaree Earl (2001–2010; his death). Nielsen had two daughters from his second marriage, Maura and Thea Nielsen.

Nielsen was a fan of golf, and he often played it in his free time. Nielsen joked about his view on golf, "I have no goals or ambition. I do, however, wish to work enough to maintain whatever celebrity status I have so that they will continue to invite me to golf tournaments." Nielsen's interest in the sport led him to star in several comedic instructional films.

Nielsen stated in several interviews that he had a few medical problems such as hearing impairment. He was legally deaf and wore hearing aids for most of his life. Because of this impairment, he publicly supported the Better Hearing Institute.

 death
In November 2010, Nielsen was admitted to a Fort Lauderdale, Florida hospital for treatment of pneumonia. On 28 November, Doug Nielsen, Nielsen's nephew, announced to the CJOB radio station that Nielsen had died in his sleep, due to complications from pneumonia, around 5:30 pm EST, surrounded by family and friends. He was interred in Fort Lauderdale's Evergreen Cemetery. As a final bit of humor, Nielsen chose "Let 'er Rip" as his epitaph.

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Whole or part of the information contained in this card come from the Wikipedia article "Leslie Nielsen", licensed under CC-BY-SA full list of contributors here.