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Stars mourn death of spoof movie master Nielsen at 84

Canadian comic actor Leslie Nielsen, star of a string of madcap spoof movies including Airplane! and The Naked Gun, has died of complications from pneumonia, a spokesman said. He was 84.

The spokesman said Nielsen died yesterday in a hospital near his home in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, surrounded by his wife, Barbaree, and friends at 5.34pm.

Born on February 11, 1926, in Regina, Saskatchewan, the son of a Canadian mounted policeman, Nielsen served stints as an aerial gunner in the air force and as a radio disc jockey before studying acting in Toronto and then in New York City.

He got his first big break in 1950 with a Studio One television appearance, and came to Hollywood in 1954 to star in the film The Vagabond King for Casablanca director Michael Curtiz.

For the first 30 years of his career, Nielsen worked steadily in TV shows such as Peyton Place and The Virginian, and built a reputation for playing authority figures such as the captain of the cruise ship in the 1972 feature The Poseidon Adventure.

But later generations got to know the silver-haired actor for his deadpan performances in comedies such as 1980's Airplane! and the Naked Gun trilogy.

As Dr Rumack in Airplane!, Nielsen delivered inane non sequiturs with a straight face. "Can you fly this plane, and land it?," he asks a passenger. "Surely, you can't be serious," the passenger exclaims.


"I am serious, and don't call me Shirley," Rumack replies.

The Naked Gun franchise had its origins in the short-lived 1982 TV show Police Squad!

After it was cancelled, creators Jim Abrahams, Jerry Zucker and David Zucker -- who had previously worked with Nielsen on Airplane! -- turned it into a feature packed with slapstick action and double-entendres.

Bumbling cop Lieutenant Frank Drebin, in a nod to Inspector Clouseau, delivered deadpan lines such as "Nice beaver" as his girlfriend, played by Priscilla Presley, stood above him on a ladder clutching a stuffed animal. His character also beat up the Ayatollah Khomeini and scrubbed the birthmark from Russian leader Mikhail Gorbachev's head.