Leslie Nielsen was best known for his comic performances in "Airplane!," "The Naked Gun" and "Police Squad!," but his straight acting was taken seriously too.
Though the silver-haired comedian who made his name as the bumbling Lt. Frank Drebin in "The Naked Gun" also spoofed it up in "Spy Hard," "Repossessed" and "Dracula, Dead and Loving It," he showed he could play it straight in a well-received solo stage performance in the late '90s as Clarence Darrow, America's most famous lawyer of the early 20th century, who defended the right to teach evolution in public school.
"Darrow was a great man, and Nielsen does him justice," one review concluded.
Squaring his serious stage lines — and 30 years in dramatic performances — with the likes of his famous "Airplane!" refrain to the question: "Surely you can't be serious?" ("I am serious, and don't call me Shirley.") is just one example in which Nielsen's 60-year acting career has come full circle.
The Saskatchewan native and one-time Calgary disc jockey studied acting at the Neighborhood Playhouse and the Actors Studio in New York before appearing in dozens of live television productions in the early '50s. He moved to Hollywood in 1954 and worked steadily in television and films.
In 1980's "Airplane!," with his breakout comedic turn as a bumbling doctor treating a plane full of sick passengers, Nielsen immortalized many oft-quoted passages with his deadpan delivery. The American Film Institute listed the film in its top 10 comedies of all time. He won an Emmy for outstanding comedy lead in "Police Squad!"
Nielsen's other film credits include "The Poseidon Adventure," "Forbidden Planet" and "Mr. Magoo," and he's appeared on such TV series as "Murder, She Wrote," "The Golden Girls," "Ironside" and "Hawaii Five-0."
Though he portrayed more than 220 characters in his career, it will always be "Airplane!" and his role as Lt. Drebin in "Police Squad" and the "Naked Gun" movies that remain foremost in the minds of Nielsen's biggest fans. Just don't call him Shirley.