We were saddened to hear the news late Sunday night that actor Leslie Nielsen had passed away.
I first knew of him as a serious actor, in The Poseidon Adventure, Disney's The Swamp Fox and especially Forbidden Planet (which Mrs. Kaiju saw for the first time last night).
Then in 1980, Airplane was released... My family and I used to watch that all the time, on broadcast and cable TV. It was one of the first VHS tapes we ever purchased, along with Raiders of the Lost Ark.
It's difficult to explain exactly how much influence Airplane had on comedy in the movies, and how important it was in the forming the sense of humor of a generation. I consider it one of the top comedy films ever, right alongside Blazing Saddles, and much of that reputation is because of Mr. Nielsen's performance.
I remember watching his TV series Police Squad! when it first aired, and I recall seeing the two VHS tapes (three episodes each) in the local Camelot Music record store several years later but I never got them. When DVD arrived I hoped for an eventual release of the series on that format, which happened in 2006. If you enjoy The Naked Gun, it's worth tracking this disc down.
I liked the first Naked Gun movie, but didn't care for the other two. I must admit that I haven't seen much of Mr. Nielsen's later work past Dracula: Dead and Loving It, in movies like Spy Hard, Mr. Magoo and the Scary Movie series.
The reaction on the 'net has been interesting. Many condolences and thanks, as is usual for a celebrity who has died, but this time I've seen repeated lines from Airplane or The Naked Gun used in Facebook statuses, Tweets, and article comments. I don't see it as being disrespectful; on the contrary, I think it's a testament to the sense of humor that he had, and that many, many people share, and how much his work has meant to so many. I don't believe that he would have been offended, in fact it's probably the sort of tribute he would have loved.
This clip from Monday's NBC Nightly News is one of the best tributes in the media so far:
Frank: It's the same old story. Boy finds girl, boy loses girl, girl finds boy, boy forgets girl, boy remembers girl, girl dies in a tragic blimp accident over the Orange Bowl on New Year's Day.
Frank: No, the worst.
Thanks for all the laughs, Mr. Nielsen.