Leslie William Nielsen, Order of Canada, was a Canadian-American actor and comedian.
Early in his Life
Nielsen was born in Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada on February 11, 1926. His father Ingvard Eversen Nielsen was a constable in the Royal Canadian Mountain Police. His mother Mabel Elizabeth was an immigrant from Fulham, London. He had two brothers. His older brother, Erik Nielsen was the Deputy Prime Minister of Canada during the 1980s. His inspiration to become an actor was his half-uncle, Jean Hersholt of Dr. Christian fame, a long-running radio series.
At the age of 17, Nielsen having completed his graduation from Victoria Composite High School, Edmonton, joined the Royal Canadian Air Force. For a small period, he even worked as a disc jockey at a Calgary, Alberta radio station. After that, he enrolled himself at the Lorne Greene Academy of Radio Arts, Toronto. While studying there he received a scholarship from Neighborhood Playhouse School of Theatre, New York City. He first appeared on TV in 1948 in an episode of Studio One. He was paid US $75 for his performance.
Nielsen began his career on the small screen, acting in more than 50 live programs in 1950. It was in 1956 that he made his big screen debut as Charlie Telfer in Alex Segal’s movie Ransom! In the same year, he also appeared in the Michael Curtiz musical, The Vagabond King. It was playing Commander John J. Adams in the 1956 Sci-Fi film Forbidden Planet that got him a long-term contract with MGM. He followed it up with movies like The Opposite Sex in 1956, Hot Summer Night and the romantic comedy Tammy and the Bachelor in 1957, See How They Run in 1964, regarded as the first movie made for television, Dark Intruder, 1965, How to Steal the World in 1968, Trial Run in 1969, Hauser’s Memory in 1970 and the epic movie The Poseidon Adventure in 1972.
It was in 1980 that he performed his first comedy role in the movie Airplane!, a parody of movies that dealt with air travel. In1982 came Police Squad!, a comedy series planned with Nielsen as Lt. Frank Drebin. Unfortunately, the series was cancelled. Six years later its directors made the movie version of the series titled The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad!. There were two sequels for The Naked Gun, The Naked Gun 2½: The Smell of Fear in 1991 and Naked Gun 33⅓: The Final Insult in 1994.
Nielsen’s later parody films focused on specific targets. Repossessed in 1990 and 2001: A Space Travesty in 2000 were parodies of The Exorcist and 2001: A Space Odyssey. Other parodies included Dracula: Dead and Loving It in 1995, Spy Hard in 1996 and Wrongfully Accused in 1998. None of these films were received well by critics and met with a lot of criticism.
Nielsen’s first major success at comedy after The Naked Gun came in a supporting role in Scary Movie 3(2003) and its sequel in 2006 Scary Movie 4. He even essayed a version of Uncle Ben in the 2007 movie Superhero Movie. He also hosted a series of instructional Golf videos titles Bad Golf Made Easier in 1993. It had two sequels, Bad Golf My Way in 1994 and Stupid Little Golf Video in 1997. He also co-authored his fictional autobiography, The Naked Truth, which portrayed him as a popular actor.
Awards and Achievements
In 1995, he was given the UCLA’s Jack Benny Award for his comic roles. In 1988, he received a star at the Hollywood Walk of Fame. In 2001, he was inducted into the Canadian Hall of Fame. The next year he was made an Officer of the Order of Canada, although he was also a U.S. citizen. In 2003, he was awarded the ACTRA (Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists) Award of Excellence.
Nielsen married four times: Monica Boyer (1950–1956), Alisande Ullman (1958–1973), Brooks Oliver (1981–1983) and Barbaree Earl (2001–2010, his death). Nielsen had two children from his second marriage, Maura and Thea Nielsen.
In November 2010, Nielsen was admitted to a Fort Lauderdale, Florida. On November 28, 2010, he was announced dead.
Though Nielsen may not have portrayed many powerful characters, his contribution to International Cinema cannot be forgotten. His roles in parodies and spoofs made him, in the words of film critic Roger Ebert, “The Olivier of Spoofs!”. On November 28 2010, we lost a great actor. Leslie William Nielsen, You will not be forgotten. RIP!
“I’m afraid if I don’t keep moving, they’re going to catch me … I am 81 years old and I want to see what’s around the corner, and I don’t see any reason in the world not to keep working. But I am starting to value my down time a great deal because I am realizing there might be other things to do that I am overlooking.”
—Nielsen reflecting on his career in 2007