When I was 10, my parents took my brother and I on a vacation to Boston. It was the first big city I’d ever seen. But I only really remember one thing about that trip – seeing The Naked Gun in a cool underground theater. The perfect mix of brilliant one-liners, elegantly staged slapstick sequences and spot-on comic acting, the movie was the funniest thing I’d ever seen. And the main reason it all worked was Leslie Nielsen, who passed away Sunday at the age of 84. Nielsen played Lt. Frank Drebin like a steely-eyed king of the asphalt jungle, scorned by his ex-wife, struggling to find meaning in the world, murdering people at Shakespeare in the Park. He was the straight man and the funny guy, never cracking a smile yet delivering jokes with impeccable comic timing. In today’s comedy universe, nobody’s pulling that off. And while TNG is his masterpiece, Nielsen gave us much more, from Airplane to Police Squad, the quality Naked Gun sequels, and the inspired bit parts in Scary Movie 3 and 4.
I miss you already, Mr. Nielsen. I’m sure that in heaven, if you get somebody a harp for Christmas, they won’t ask you what it is.