I was saddened to hear about the passing of Leslie Nielsen yesterday. Nielsen was one of the great comic actors of all time, and don't let anyone tell you differently.
Nielsen started off his career as a television actor and made his motion picture debut in 1956's Ransom. He went to star in films as varied as Forbidden Planet, Beau Geste and The Poseidon Adventure, but he spent most of his early career in television and supporting roles.
Then came Airplane! in 1980 and everything changed. His performance was so brilliant that from that point forward he became known primarily as a comedic actor... and not just that, but a comedic leading man. He took his newfound comedic success to a strange little television show called "Police Squad!" While that show didn't last more than 6 episodes, it somehow managed to spawn an incredibly successful and equally hilarious film series in The Naked Gun. From that point on, he cemented himself as a comedy legend and delivered memorable performances in movies like Repossessed, Spy Hard and the Scary Movie series.
What made his performances so incredibly funny was that he wasn't trying to be funny. His best comedic work, if you really study it, he's completely dead pan. He doesn't mug. He doesn't say the lines in a "funny way." He just delivers the dialog in a very straight-forward, very serious way. You don't know why it's funny, it just is. There in lies the man's genius. Rest in peace, sir.
...and don't call me Shirley.