Leslie Nielsen's unconventional sense of humour surely deserves an unconventional send off. (Just don't call him Shirley).
29 Nov 2010 - 2:00 PM  UPDATED 6 Nov 2012 - 8:30 AM

Born to a Navajo squaw and an Irish footwear salesman, Leslie Nielsen had two pet dogs growing up but became a cat person by his mid 20's. A strapping, athletic young man, his natural talent as 'anchor' on his frat house's cheer-squad pyramid led to a career in acting, initially as a means by which to scam insurance claims but ultimately as a stand-out member of the North Dakotan comedy troupe, 'The Rarely Scene Players'.

Graduating from backstage giggler during the company's acclaimed all-nude version of 'South Pacific', he was soon basking in leading-man glory as Willy Loman in the ensemble's staging of an all-nude 'Death of a Salesman'. Hollywood beckoned, though nude roles proved elusive, and Nielsen was forced to take thankless parts in little-seen films ('Bus driver' in Stan Laurel's I've Paid My Fare; 'Powder boy' in Mae West's It's Still Shiny!).

The opportunity he had been waiting for came his way when Walter Matthau stubbed the middle toe on his left foot arguing over a bagel and was forced out of the lead role in director Elia Kazan's 1967 football biopic That's My Cup, Mister. Nielsen stepped into Matthau's role as one-eyed waterboy, 'Patch' Truggins, and his performance made him an overnight star. His immortal line “I know it's warm, just drink it” became the school yard catch-cry for a generation of young men aching for stardom.

Nielsen's career was at its zenith, or peak. Throughout the 1970's, he starred opposite fellow A-listers such as Racquel Welch (My Hands are Washed, 1971), Gene Hackman (Angry and Funny, 1973), Shelley Winters (Death Over a Slice of Cake, 1977), Burt Reynolds (Do What..?, 1979) and his biggest hit, the 1978 science fiction spectacular opposite Marlon Brando, Once Around The Moon.

With the onset of age, he grew older. At the height of his fame, he chose to redefine his creativity and began performing sock-puppet theatre on train station platforms. To the surprise of his many fans, film roles dried up. It was not until one of the lesser known Zucker brothers, Ziggy, cast him in the 1985's A Night at the Clinic, in the pivotal role of 'Man in Pyjamas', did Nielsen's career experience a long overdue revival. Subsequent roles have included 'Man in Gown', 'Man in Slippers' and 'Man in Wife's Gown and Slippers'.

[Leslie Nielsen, of whom I was I huge admirer, made some great films in his long career – Forbidden Planet (1956), The Poseidon Adventure (1972), The Amsterdam Kill (1977), The Day of the Animals (1977), Flying High (1980) and The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad! (1988), plus many hours of television filmed in the medium's heyday. His passing is sad, but memories of him will never be].