Actor Leslie Nielsen has died at the age of 84.
Like so many people of my generation, I never really knew the Nielsen of Tammy and the Bachelor or Peyton Place or even The Poseidon Adventure. No, I first encountered Nielsen as Dr. Rumack in 1980's brilliant, absurdist disaster spoof Airplane! Later I would learn of, and finally see, his dramatic turn as Commander J.J. Adams in the trippy 1956 science fiction adventure Forbidden Planet ("The Id? What's that? Talk, Doc! Doc? Oh, Doc."), and his campy turn as Richard Vickers in 1982's Creepshow ("I can hold my breath a long, long time!"), but to me Nielsen will always be Lieutenant Frank Drebin, first of the short-lived but genius 1982 TV series Police Squad! and then of the Naked Gun film series (co-starring O.J. Simpson!). The role was perfect for him.
From the 1990s on, he was pigeonholed in one terrible so-called comedy after another: Repossessed...Dracula: Dead and Loving It (also quite possible Mel Brooks' lowest point)...Spy Hard...Mr. Magoo...2001: A Space Travesty...Scary Movie 3...Scary Movie 4...Stan Helsing... The list feels almost endless, and each of these films was well beneath his considerable talent. But a working actor is a working actor, and like Ingrid Pitt, who passed away last week, Nielsen was still working up to his death. His choice of projects may not have been top notch, but you've got to be impressed with that kind of work ethic, especially from someone in his 80s.
Surely you'll be missed, Leslie Nielsen. And no, we won't stop calling you Shirley.