Dictionary.com defines "deadpan" like so: "marked by or accomplished with a careful pretense of seriousness or calm detachment." Think Bob Newhart, think Charles Grodin, or (best of all) think of the stock-still and dead-serious face of Leslie Nielsen as he's asked to deliver some of the silliest comedy material ever devised. Deadpan is not easy, because it requires a comedian to have a layer of authority at the base, and that's what allows their comedic frustrations, eruptions, or pratfalls to work so damn well.
The deadpan school of comedy has lost a true master today; we sadly note the passing of Canadian actor Leslie Nielsen, who died in a Florida hospital at the age of 84.
Best known for his work in spoof comedies like 'Airplane!,' 'The Naked Gun' and 'Police Squad,' Mr. Nielsen was not always a bumbling yet endearing authority figure. Between 1950 and 1980 the man appeared in dozens of films and television programs (he was in 'Forbidden Planet,' 'The Poseidon Adventure,' 'Day of the Animals,' 'Creepshow' and 'Prom Night'!), but it was the comedy smash 'Airplane!' that re-invented the well-regarded character actor. So wonderfully weird was his deadpan approach to the '50s-style doctor he played in 'Airplane!' -- his career was transformed almost overnight.
Nielsen first appeared as fan-favorite Lt. Frank Drebin in the six-episode 'Police Squad!' series, which then spawned 'The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad!' (1988), 'The Naked Gun 2 1/2: The Smell of Fear' (1991), and 'The Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult' (1994). Beyond those, Nielsen was a spoof-making machine. Producers both clever and not-so-clever hired Leslie Nielsen to bring his now-patented buffoonery to films like 'Spaceship' (1983), 'Repossessed' (1990), 'Dracula: Dead and Loving It' (1995), 'Spy Hard' (1996), 'Mr. Magoo' (1997), 'Wrongfully Accused' (1998), '2001: A Space Travesty' (2000), 'Scary Movie 4' (2004), 'Superhero Movie' (2008), and 'Stan Helsing' (2009).
'Airplane!' Cast: Where Are They Now?
Aside from the silliness, the man was a rather fine "straight" actor ... but it's easy to believe he simply had too much fun being silly in his golden years. And even in the worst of the spoof movies, and I just mentioned a few, Nielsen was always good for a legitimate chuckle or two. By all accounts he was also a stunningly gracious man (he was Canadian, after all) and a great guy to talk movies with.
Everyone here at Cinematical / Moviefone would like to send our condolences to Mr. Nielsen's fans, friends, and family. If it's possible to place a dollar value on laughter, then this man was a very charitable billionaire.
Leslie Nielsen Dead: Read More on the News at PopEater.