(Ed. Note: This piece ran in the Langara Voice on Monday, I have been slow to post it but take some time and let me know what you think. I have been incredibly slow posting since the summertime, I’m going to upload a bunch of pieces that I have completed during my certificate program. I was assigned these stories to cover for the newspaper.)
Canada lost its king of deadpan last Sunday as actor Leslie Nielsen passed away at the age of 84.
The utilitarian actor worked for decades in over 100 movies and numerous TV shows before he redefined himself as a funny man after the 1980 hit, Airplane! He died due to complications with pneumonia.
“Even when he was in the early part of his career, doing the serious movies and TV, he was always very down-to-earth, had a quick wit and a great sense of humour,” said Doug Nielsen, Nielsen’s nephew who lives in Richmond.
“I would see that humour in him all the time when we got together and had a glass of wine,” Doug said.
Nielsen perfected the straight-faced delivery of ridiculous lines now the bread and butter of comedians like Stephen Colbert and George Carlin. Yet many of Langara’s younger students might remember Nielsen as Mr. Magoo.
Nielsen worked as a villain in TV and movies for decades before jumping at the chance to move to comedy.
“After he read the script of Airplane! he actually said to his agent that he’d do the movie for free. He just loved the whole idea,” said Doug.
B. J. Summers, manager at the Videomatica movie rental store, thinks Nielsen’s image as a bad guy added to the effectiveness of his comedic roles.
“That’s who he was for the longest time,” Summers said. “And that’s why it was so funny that people recognized his face and he delivered his lines like he always did, so deadpan and so real.”
Videomatica has a memorial shelf for Nielsen including many comedies like the Naked Gun series and also his lesser-known dramas.
Nielsen was born in Regina and moved around the prairies with his family. He said in previous interviews he started developing acting skills when he used to lie to his strict Mountie father. Nielsen’s brother Erik was deputy prime minister in the 1980s and also died at age 84.