Jonathan Chait

Leslie Nielsen, RIP

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[Guest post by Isaac Chotiner]

The great Leslie Nielsen passed away today at the age of 84. Nielsen is best known for his roles in The Naked Gun series and Airplane!, the laugh-a-second comedies from the Zucker/Abrahams/Zucker team. But before his breakout success as a comic actor, he starred in a number of films and television shows, often as a straight-man. And, indeed, Nielsen's most visible skill in the roles that eventually made him a star was the ability to deliver ridiculous lines with a serious face. ("Surely you can't be serious?" "Of course I am. And stop calling me Shirley.") But the greatness of the Naked Gun films also lies in the character Nielsen created. Lt. Frank Drebin is more than a buffoon (although he is definitely an idiot)--he's also a  morally upstanding, and extremely likeable figure who is compelling enough to make the films better than they otherwise would be. (The comparison here would be to Hot Shots, another amusing Zucker/Abrahams/Zucker film that doesn't rise to the Naked Gun level because the Charlie Sheen character is much more dull than Drebin).

Nielsen eventually made too many silly comedies (although Wrongfully Accused--really!--had some funny moments). But he will be sorely missed. Thankfully, his films will survive. 

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