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Leslie Nielsen – Biography

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Leslie Nielsen – Biography

Born in Western Canada, Leslie Nielsen spent his early childhood in the isolated Yukon Territories where his father, an officer in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, was stationed at Fort Nelson. When it came time for him and his brother Eric to attend school, the family left the Territories for Edmonton, Alberta. Nielsen graduated, then joined the Royal Canadian Air Force just at the close of the Second World War and ended up serving only for a year as an aerial gunner as the war ended before he was sent overseas. After his service, he found work as a disc jockey at a Calgary radio station and discovered that he had a flair for showbusiness. But Nielsen knew instinctively he had more to offer than just his voice and decided to move to Toronto where he enrolled in The Lorne Greene Academy of Radio Arts. It was here that he learned he had a real talent for acting. He was only in his early twenties when he left Toronto after receiving a scholarship to study at the Neighborhood Playhouse in New York City. There, he took lessons in theatre and music, and performed in summer stock until 1948, when he landed his first television role in an episode of Studio One.

Leslie Nielsen, Forbidden Planet, actor,
This promotional image for Forbidden Planet was scanned from an original in the Northernstars Collection
His next few years were busy as Nielsen found roles in numerous live television programs. His work brought him to the attention of Paramount Studios, and he was soon signed to star in the 1954 film The Vagabond King. At this time Nielsen wanted to be a serious actor and he achieved success in films like Forbidden Planet (1956), which also starred Walter Pidgeon, and Tammy and the Bachelor a year later in 1957. Nielsen continued his serious work on both the big screen — 1965`s Harlow comes to mind — as well as on the small screen, turning up as guest star in series like Wagon Train, Kojak or Peyton Place.

This serious phase lasted until 1980 when he signed on to play Doctor Rumack in the hilarious feature Airplane! The world discovered Leslie Nielsen Unbound. Behind all those years of serious work was a comic genius and he became known for his over-the-top characters in a series of films like 1990’s Repossessed, Dracula: Dead and Loving It and Spy Hard, released in 1996.

Nielsen had his own hit series, when he starred as Frank Drebin in Police Squad, which earned him an Emmy nomination in 1982. He would go on to play the clueless detective three more times in the popular cop-show parody The Naked Gun and its sequels. He received UCLA`s Jack Benny Award for his comedic talents in 1995.

His television project Liography was a spoof of the far-too-serious series Biography. Nielsen’s biography includes the fact he has been married and divorced three times. He married his fourth wife, Barbaree Earl in 2001 and has two children from his second marriage.

It seemed as if Nielsen would go on forever. In 2007, he starred in the drama Music Within and then took up residence in the CTV Vancouver-based comedy series, Robson Arms. In 2008, he portrayed a version of Uncle Ben for Superhero Movie, a spoof of superhero films with co-star Drake Bell. He then appeared in David Zucker’s 2008 parody An American Carol, and has completed work on a handful of films to be released in the next year or so.

In mid-November 2010, Nielsen was hospitalized near his home in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida with pneumonia. Twelve days later he died in his sleep with wife Barbaree by his side. He was 84 years old. A “must-read” is his autobiography, The Naked Truth, published in 1993.

Also see: Leslie Nielsen’s filmography

Northernstars, logo, imageAll of the images used in this biography were scanned from originals in the Northernstars Collection. This biography is Copyright © 2012 by Northernstars.ca and may not be reproduced without prior written consent. Click here for more information about copyright.