I’ve been writing this blog for a little over six months now, and in that time I’ve not been compelled to comment on the passing of any of the great movie stars who we’ve lost, mainly because others have done it so eloquently. But this morning, I awoke to the news that one of the stars of my all-time favourite comedy, in a movie that served to reinvent him for the last thirty years of his career, has died at the grand old age of 84.
Leslie Nielsen became famous for his deadpan comedy style, and it’s easy to underestimate the skill required to pull this off successfully. Indeed, I wondered how much was down to him and how much to the writers, especially after seeing an episode of Columbo from the Seventies in which Nielsen appeared. Watching with a friend one Sunday afternoon, Nielsen’s straight-faced delivery and tendency to glide in at the side of frame had us in hysterics, and it would be a shame of thirty years of comedy had tarnished his more serious roles.
But I’m sure it’s because he was so good at comedy. I only saw four of Nielsen’s movies at the cinema, and sadly that list includes two Scary Movies, Spy Hard and Superhero Movie. But Superhero Movie did, if nothing else, help to convince me of Leslie’s actual talent – about 4000% better than anyone around him, you could see how effortless he made things appear. My regret is that I’ve never get gotten the ability to take in Airplane! or The Naked Gun with a cinema audience, especially one coming to those movies fresh. The gift of shared laughter is one to be treasured, and Leslie Nielsen has handed out his fair share of treasures over the years.
At least we got to enjoy three Naked Gun movies in the end. One of the great tragedies of twentieth century comedy is that Police Squad was cancelled after only six episodes. People talk of the quality of twenty-first century television, but these were six of the densest and most finely crafted half hours of TV put together. If you’ve never sat and experienced them, for once I’m going to recommend a TV series to you; here’s the first act of one episode to get you started, but you’d better not come back until you’ve hunted down the rest.
Even to this day, I head to the shops and call out to my wife, “See you shortly.” She ever unfailingly replies,”OK, and stop calling me Shortly.” Leslie Nielsen, you will be much missed.