Born in Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada, in 1926, Leslie Nielsen made his big screen debut in Forbidden Planet. In the 1960s and '70s, he took on a large quantity of low-quality roles. The turning point in Neilsen's career came when he was cast as the poker-faced Dr. Shirley Rumack in the immensely popular spoof Airplane! (1980). This type of role defined his career from then on, and he is remembered fondly as a comedic actor.
Born on February 11, 1926, in Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada, Leslie Nielsen and his three younger brothers, the sons of a Royal Canadian Mountie, were raised in a tiny hamlet near the isolated Arctic Circle, where supplies reached them only two months out of the year. Later, the family relocated to the town of Edmonton, where the Nielsen boys could attend school. During World War II, Leslie Nielsen enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force. Following his discharge, he worked as a disc jockey and announcer at a local Canadian radio station.
Foray into Acting
Nielsen attributed his acting skills to his father, a strict disciplinarian, to whom he often lied in order to avoid punishment. In 1949, he decided to wholeheartedly pursue acting after receiving a scholarship to New York's Neighborhood Playhouse. Subsequently, he moved to New York, where he landed his first television role in Battleship Bismarck (1949). For the next few years, he enjoyed a steady stream of roles in live television dramas including Tales From Tomorrow (1951).
In the mid-1950s, Nielsen relocated to Hollywood where he set his sights on film, making his big screen debut in Forbidden Planet (1956). Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, he continued to take on a large quantity of low-quality roles. During this period, he was billed in over 50 films, including the poorly-received Harlow (1965), The Plainsman (1966), and The Poseidon Adventure (1972).
In the early 1980s, after an extensive film career, Nielsen reinvented himself as a comedian. The turning point came when he was cast as the poker-faced Dr. Shirley Rumack in the immensely popular spoof Airplane! (1980). Nielsen went on to play the hilariously inept police Detective Frank Drebin on the short-lived TV series Police Squad! (1982). In 1988, he hit it big when he reprised the role in the full-length feature Naked Gun: Files From the Police Squad, along with its two successful sequels: Naked Gun 2 1/2: The Smell of Fear (1991) and Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult (1994). After the release of Naked Gun 2 1/2, he capitalized on the films' success by publishing a fictitious autobiography titled The Naked Truth (1993).
In 1996, Nielsen's renewed fame enabled him to pursue his dream project. He bought the play Clarence Darrow and embarked on a stage career. He assumed the production's title role and toured the U.S., proving there is a serious actor behind the funnyman.
Most recently, Nielsen has returned to the slapstick genre appearing in the spoof Titanic Too: It Missed the Iceberg (2000), and the sci-fi comedy 2001: A Space Travesty (2000).
Nielsen's impressive career included more than 200 films and television programs. The actor was married and divorced three times, but finally settled down with longtime friend Barbaree Earl.
Nielsen died on November 28, 2010, of complications from pneumonia. The actor was surrounded by family and friends at a hospital near his home in Fort Lauderdale, Florida at the time of his death. He was 84 years old.
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