'Naked Gun' Actor Leslie Nielsen Dies At 84

Leslie Nielsen went from drama to inspired bumbling as a hapless doctor in Airplane! and the accident-prone detective Frank Drebin in The Naked Gun comedies.

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Now let's remember a man who never lost his cool when he found himself in a tough spot. In the movie "Airplane," he played the doctor who stayed calm even as he sought a replacement for the disabled flight crew.

(Soundbite of movie, "Airplane")

Mr. LESLIE NIELSEN (Actor): (as Dr. Rumack) Can you fly this plane and land it?

Mr. ROBERT HAYS (Actor): (As Ted Striker) Surely you can't be serious.

Mr. NIELSEN: (as Dr. Rumack) I am serious. And don't call me Shirley.

MONTAGNE: Better to call him Leslie Nielsen. The actor died last night of complications from pneumonia.


Nielsen was born 84 years ago in Canada. He became an actor despite a childhood illness that rendered him legally deaf. He used hearing aids.

MONTAGNE: He made his name with serious roles, like the 1956 science-fiction movie "Forbidden Planet."

INSKEEP: And he played the captain of an ill-fated cruise ship in the 1972 disaster flick "The Poseidon Adventure."

(Soundbite of movie, "The Poseidon Adventure")

Mr. NIELSEN: (as The Captain) We should have loaded extra bunkers in Gibraltar. We are top heavy and when that pump is repaired, I am taking on more ballast.

MONTAGNE: Leslie Nielsen became known to a new generation by spoofing movies like the "Poseidon Adventure," that he once made. He played a bumbling detective in "The Naked Gun." And countless Americans know, by heart, his lines from the "Airplane" films. With his white hair and a sober expression, Nielsen seriously delivered lines like these:

Mr. NIELSEN: (as Lieutenant Frank Drebin) This woman has to be gotten to a hospital.

Unidentified Woman: A hospital - what is it?

Mr. NIELSEN: (as Lieutenant Frank Drebin) It's a big building with patients. But that's not important right now.

(Soundbite of laughter)

INSKEEP: There was a key to Leslie Nielsen's success in the years before he died. No matter how absurd the dialogue, he delivered it deadpan. He almost never smiled.

MONTAGNE: Leslie Nielsen left that role to his audience.

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

INSKEEP: And I'm Steve Inskeep.

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