Comic titan Leslie Nielsen, famed for his insistence on not being called Shirley and for his masterly portrayal of "Sergeant Frank Drebin, Detective Lieutenant, Police Squad", has died aged 84.
"With his friends and his wife by his side, he just fell asleep and passed away," his nephew Doug Nielsen told AFP. The veteran actor had been admitted to hospital in Florida two weeks ago, suffering from pneumonia.
Nielsen, originally from Canada, had been a serious professional actor for 30 years in New York and Los Angeles before suddenly becoming an international comic star after his turn as the deadpan doctor ("don't call me Shirley") in the 1980 disaster-spoof smash hit Airplane!*
Subsequently his star burned perhaps even brighter with the advent of the cop comedy Police Squad, which was a success both as TV show and three Naked Gun movies. Nielsen played Frank Drebin, bumbling top plod of the eponymous Squad.
Many readers will no doubt remember the scene at the White House in The Naked Gun 2½: The Smell of Fear, in which Drebin is honoured for having killed his 1000th drug dealer and responds:
"Thank you. But, in all honesty, the last three I backed over with my car. Luckily, they turned out to be drug-dealers."
Doubtless there will be many other candidates for the best Nielsen line.
Reportedly, his relatives described his passing away as peaceful. ®
*Airplane! was closely based on deadly serious 1957 flop Zero Hour!.