Leslie Nielsen

On this date in 1926, actor Leslie Nielsen, the oldest of four sons, was born to Ingvard and Maybelle Nielsen and spent his early childhood in Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada. Nielsen credited his father, a strict disciplinarian and an officer in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, for giving him his first acting experiences: He frequently had to lie to his father in order to avoid being punished!

When Nielsen and his brother Eric, who grew up to become deputy prime minister, were old enough to start school, the family moved to Edmonton, Alberta. After graduation, Nielsen joined the Royal Canadian Air Force, where he was an aerial gunner for one year overseas. After World War II, he worked at a Calgary radio station, then enrolled in The Lorne Greene Academy of Radio Arts in Toronto.

Falling in love with acting, Nielsen, 23, earned a scholarship to study at the Neighborhood Playhouse in New York City. Quickly given parts on television shows, Nielsen continued in that medium for the next few years, playing dramatic roles. In the 1950s, Nielsen became interested in film, moved to Hollywood and made his big screen debut in “Forbidden Planet” (1956). He made more than 50 films over the next 20 years.

In 1980 Nielsen was an instant hit as the humorless doctor in the comedy spoof “Airplane!” He went on to play the inept police officer, Det. Frank Drebin, in the TV series “Police Squad!” Continuing to hit his stride in comedy, he got his big breakthrough in 1988, reprising the role of Drebin for film in “Naked Gun: Files From the Police Squad.” His success continued with the sequels, “Naked Gun 2 1/2: The Smell of Fear” (1991) and “Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult” (1994).

Switching back to drama in 1996 but in a new genre, Nielsen played the lead in the stage production of “Clarence Darrow,” a one-man show that had originated with freethinker Henry Fonda. Nielsen’s long career boasted more than 200 films and television programs. Winner of numerous awards, Nielsen received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2001, was inducted into Canada’s Walk of Fame and received UCLA’s Jack Benny Award for his comedic roles.

Married and divorced three times, Nielsen resided in Arizona with his fourth wife and longtime friend, Barbaree Earl, until his death at age 84. He had two children. D. 2010.

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