Leslie Nielsen’s career spanned six decades. During that time, the leading man took roles in a variety of genres. He starred in both television productions and feature films. Today, he is best known for his impeccable comedic timing. However, before he was the king of comedies, he made a name for himself as a serious actor. Before his death in 2010, he appeared in over 250 roles.
Today, Leslie Nielsen would have been 95 years old. To celebrate his birthday, we’re taking a look back at some of his biggest roles.
Leslie Nielsen Enters the World of Cinema
Before Leslie Nielsen was a star of the silver screen, he held several television roles. He did dozens of television appearances from 1950 to 1956. This is when he landed his first feature film, “The Vagabond King.” According to “The Famous People.” that film wasn’t a hit, but his performance got him an audition for a starring role in “Forbidden Planet.” He landed the sci-fi/action film and the world was introduced to Leslie Nielsen, the serious, handsome leading man.
In the film, Nielsen played the young Commander Adams. He and his team must investigate an alien planet only inhabited by a sinister doctor and his pretty young daughter. With this film, he really got to show off his acting chops to a wider audience. This was just the beginning.
“I am serious and don’t call me Shirley!” is one of the most iconic quotes in cinematic history. Leslie Nielsen delivered the line in the Zucker, Abrahams, and Zucker spoof film “Airplane!” This was Nielsen’s first comedic role and one of his best-known. Instead of diving head-first into the slapstick of the film, he played the role straight. He seemed oblivious to the absurdity of his surroundings. His deadpan delivery in this film set him up to be the iconic comedic lead that most know him as today. This might be his most important role. If you haven’t seen this movie, you’re really missing out.
In 1982, the same team that created “Airplane!” put together a television series called “Police Squad!” Because of his work in the previous film, they cast Leslie Nielsen in the leading role of Frank Drebin. Where “Airplane!” was a spoof of disaster films, this series was a spoof of police procedurals of the time. While the show is a cult classic today, it was canceled after only six episodes. However, this would lead to some of Nielsen’s most well-known films in the years that followed.
Leslie Nielsen in The Naked Gun
A few years after “Police Squad!” was prematurely canceled, Zucker, Abrahams, and Zucker turned the concept into a feature film. The film saw Leslie Nielsen reprising the role of Frank Drebin and featured a star-studded cast. “Airplane!” introduced Nielsen as a comedic actor. “The Naked Gun,” however, catapulted him to the level of a comedic leading man. He was tall, handsome, talented, and genuinely funny. The film spawned two sequels. All of the Naked Gun films are rated among the best of Nielsen’s career. After these films, he went on to star in several spoof films such as the “Scary Movie” franchise.
Leslie Nielsen was one of the best actors of the modern era. While many know him for his absurd spoof comedies, many underestimate the range he truly had. His roles laid the groundwork for countless comedic hits. Cinema wouldn’t be the same without his influence.