Tuesday, November 30, 2010
He died last Sunday. He was 84.
He was probably best remembered as Lt. Frank Drebin in 'The Naked Gun' series of pictures, but also enjoyed a more than 60-year career in motion pictures and television, Nielsen came to Hollywood in the mid-1950s after performing in 150 live television dramas in New York. With a handsome face, blond hair and 6-foot-2 height, he seemed ideal for a movie leading man.
Nielsen first performed as the king of France in the Paramount operetta "The Vagabond King" with Kathryn Grayson.
The film — he called it "The Vagabond Turkey" — flopped, but MGM signed him to a seven-year contract.
His first film for that studio was auspicious — as the space ship commander in the science fiction classic "Forbidden Planet." He found his best dramatic role as the captain of an overturned ocean liner in the 1972 disaster movie, "The Poseidon adventure.
He became known as a serious actor, although behind the camera he was always a joker.
That was an aspect of his personality never exploited, however, until "Airplane!" was released in 1980 and became a huge hit.
This was followed up with his huge success in 'Police Squad' and Naked Gun.
As the doctor aboard a plane in which the pilots, and some of the passengers, become violently ill, Nielsen says they must get to a hospital right away.
"A hospital? What is it?" a flight attendant asks, inquiring about the illness.
"It's a big building with patients, but that's not important right now,"
When he asks a passenger if he can fly the plane, the man replies,
"Surely you can't be serious."
He responds: "I am serious, and don't call me Shirley."
Neilsen will be sadly missed.