Monday, 29 November 2010

LESLIE NIELSEN (1926-2010)

Versatile Canadian-born actor Leslie Nielsen has died at the age of 84.

He spent the first half of a long movie and TV career playing heroes, law enforcement officers, authority figures and even villains. Before conscienciously wrecking this dramatic persona during the second half, for his own delectation and the joy of millions of moviegoers around the world.

Leslie Nielsen started on TV in some 1950s anthology dramas. While a contract player for MGM he played the spaceship commander in the movie Forbidden Planet (1956) but asked to be released two years later. Then the actor worked mostly for television: he starred in Disney's Swamp Fox (1959-1961) and played Lieutenant Price Adams in The New Breed (1961-1962), a crime show produced by Quinn Martin. Later he starred as another cop in a segment of The Bold Ones called The Protectors (1969-1970).

But during two decades Hollywood used Nielsen as a reliable but typecast character actor, particularly in a long list of TV guest spots. Until director/writer trio Zucker, Abrahams and Zucker gave him the role of hapless Dr. Rumack in their movie Airplane! (1980), a spoof of aerial disaster films. There he draw attention to his comedic nature and his ability to deliver deadpan lines. The trio brought the formula to television with Leslie Nielsen as incompetent detective Frank Drebin in Police Squad! (1982).

In this hilarious ABC comedy series, Nielsen spoofed his no-nonsense cop roles in a bizarro version of the Quinn Martin or Jack Webb productions. The network quickly cancelled the show but Police Squad! acquired a cult status which led to a cinema spin-off, The Naked Gun: From the files of Police Squad! (1988). Nielsen returned as Drebin and after almost 40 years in the industry he enjoyed a worldwide popularity thanks to the hit movie and its two sequels, The Naked Gun 2 ½: The Smell of Fear (1991) and Naked Gun 33 ⅓: The Final Insult (1994).

Proclaimed "King of spoof" by many of his global fans, Leslie Nielsen gave the Drebin treatment to Dracula in Mel Brooks's Dracula: Dead and Loving It (1995), James Bond in Spy Hard (1996), The Fugitive in Wrongfully Accused (1998) or to President George W. Bush in Scary Movie 3 (2004) and 4 (2006). But in the last years of his career he also successfully toured the US in a "serious" one-man show as the great American lawyer Clarence Darrow.

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