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Leslie Nielsen, star of 'Airplane!' and 'Naked Gun,' dead at 84

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Leslie Nielsen: 'I'm just having fun'
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: "He was the life of the party," his nephew says
  • Nielsen died of complications from pneumonia, his family says
  • The earnest dramatic actor became a comedy star after "Airplane!"
  • He played the captain in the 1972 disaster movie, "The Poseidon Adventure"
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(CNN) -- Leslie Nielsen, whose longtime career as a square-jawed dramatic actor took a sudden turn into comedy with gut-busting spoofs like "Airplane!" and "The Naked Gun," has died at age 84, his family said Sunday.

The Canadian-born Nielsen's career reached back into the early days of television, when he made frequent appearances on live drama series like "Goodyear Playhouse."

He played the earnest starship captain in the 1956 science-fiction classic "Forbidden Planet" and made regular appearances on a wide range of TV dramas into the 1970s, including "Hawaii Five-O."

He also played the captain of an overturned ocean liner in the 1972 disaster movie, "The Poseidon Adventure."

Much of that changed in 1980, when he was cast as a doctor aboard an endangered jetliner in the gag-a-minute disaster-movie parody "Airplane!"

Remembering Leslie Nielsen

Nielsen's deadpan response to the question "Surely, you can't be serious?" with "I am serious -- and don't call me Shirley" helped launch a second career.

The film's producers went on to cast him in their short-lived television series "Police Squad!"

He reprised that show's bumbling lead character, Lt. Frank Drebin, a decade later in three "Naked Gun" movies, in which he shared the screen with O.J. Simpson and Priscilla Presley.

Nielsen appeared in several similar but less-acclaimed spoofs following those films.

Nielsen was made an Officer of the Order of Canada in 2003. The medal is awarded to "Canadian citizens for outstanding achievement and service to the country or to humanity at large."

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Nielsen died of complications of pneumonia in a hospital near his home in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, surrounded by family and friends, a family statement said.

Doug Nielsen called his uncle's death a "great loss."

"He was extremely funny," the younger Nielsen said in an interview with CNN affiliate Global Network News in Vancouver.

"At all of our family get-togethers, he was always the life of the party and a great-natured guy," Nielsen said. "He was a very good friend to me."

 
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