Los Angeles Leslie Nielsen had the somber demeanor and stone-serious face that were just right for dramatic roles. They proved even better for comedy.
“Surely you can’t be serious,” an airline passenger says to Nielsen in “Airplane!” the 1980 hit that turned the actor from dramatic leading man to comic star.
“I am serious,” Nielsen replies. “And don’t call me Shirley.”
The line was probably his most famous — and a perfect distillation of his career.
Nielsen, the dramatic lead in “Forbidden Planet” and “The Poseidon Adventure” and the bumbling detective in “The Naked Gun” comedies, died on Sunday in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. He was 84.
The Canada native died from complications from pneumonia at a hospital near his home, surrounded by his wife, Barbaree, and friends, his agent John S. Kelly said in a statement.
“We are saddened by the passing of beloved actor Leslie Nielsen, probably best remembered as Lt. Frank Drebin in ‘The Naked Gun’ series of pictures, but who enjoyed a more than 60-year career in motion pictures and television,” Kelly said.
Nielsen came to Hollywood in the mid-1950s after performing in 150 live television dramas in New York. With a craggily handsome face, blond hair and 6-foot-2 height, he seemed ideal for a movie leading man.