“Shirley” he will be missed. But don’t call him Shirley! Leslie Nielsen, star of the great ’80s comedies Airplane! and Naked Gunmovies passed away yesterday at the age of 84. Nielsen died of complications of pneumonia in a hospital near his home in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, surrounded by family and friends, a family statement said.
Early in his career, Leslie Nielsen was a great serious actor. He got raves for his roles in the science fiction movie Forbidden Planet (1956) and disaster movie The Poseidon Adventure (1972).
But it was his role as Dr. Rumack in Airplane! that shot Nielsen up to superstardom. He then starred as Lt. Frank Drebin in the short-lived comedy, “Police Squad.” The show failed but it inspired the creative team behind it to make a big screen version with The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad!. The movie was so successful, that there were 2 sequels, Naked Gun 2 1/2: The Smell of Fear, and Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult.
Unfortunately, this also spawned off some other slapstick comedies that paled in comparison such as, Dracula: Dead and Loving It, Spy Hard and Wrongfully Accused.
Nielsen had been ill for over a week, getting treatment for a staph infection in a hospital in Fort Luaderdale when he contracted the pneumonia. His nephew, Doug Nielsen, confirmed the rumors of his uncle’s death by a call-in to a Manitoba radio station, CJOB on Sunday stating that “today at 5:30, with his friends and his wife, Barbaree, by his side, he just fell asleep and passed away.”
Nielsen is survived by Barbaree Nielsen, his fourth wife, and his two daughters, Thea and Maura, whom the actor had with his second wife, Sandy Ullmann.