Whitehorse Daily Star

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A HAPPY GET-TOGETHER – Rick Nielsen (centre) stands with his father, Erik (left) and his uncle, Leslie, at Erik's cabin at Quiet Lake in this undated photo. Photo courtesy RICK NIELSEN

‘We always knew him as a funny guy'

For many around the world, Leslie Nielsen was perhaps best known as Lt. Frank Drebin in the Naked Gun movies or any other number of characters he played during an acting career that spanned half a century.

By Stephanie Waddell on November 29, 2010

For many around the world, Leslie Nielsen was perhaps best known as Lt. Frank Drebin in the Naked Gun movies or any other number of characters he played during an acting career that spanned half a century.

And while many are mourning Sunday's death of the 84-year-old actor, Yukoner Rick Nielsen is saying farewell to "Uncle Les”.

"He'll be sadly missed,” Rick said in an interview this morning as he recalled the visits his uncle made to see his father, Erik, and other members of the family.

Leslie died of complications from pneumonia in Florida.

Leslie got to know a number of Yukoners during his visits here and had a number of friends here, Rick said.

He recalled the rest of world knowing his uncle for the serious roles he would take on in films that included The Forbidden Planet and The Poseidon Adventure, among others.

The family, though, knew a very different side to Leslie.

"We always knew him as a funny guy,” Rick said.

Though his uncle didn't visit all that regularly, those visits were memorable, with the family spending time at the cabin of Rick's dad on Quiet Lake, as well as Whitehorse. Erik, the former Yukon MP and deputy prime minister, died in September 2008.

One of the Rick's favourite memories of his uncle was the discussion long into the evening he and his friends had after Leslie made a speech at Rick's graduation from F.H. Collins Secondary School.

On another visit, Rick recalled, his uncle was carrying around a "little rubber fart machine.”

Only Erik knew about the machine when they went out to dinner with some friends, including a doctor. As the evening went on, every so often Leslie would contort his face a little and a noise from the machine would soon follow.

Everyone at the table politely ignored the noise, until finally the doctor looked at him "very matter of factly” and told him there were things they could do to help him deal with the flatulence.

It was in the 1980s that Leslie moved into the comedic world with his role on Airplane!, and it was there, Rick said, that his uncle seemed to find the roles he was best suited for.

It was the spoof of the Airport series of disaster movies that had Leslie saying the line he was perhaps most famous for when an airline passenger says to him, "Surely you can't be serious.”

He replies: "I am serious, and don't call me Shirley.”

He would go on to star in numerous comedies from the Naked Gun movies to appearances in the Scary Movie franchise to Spy Hard.

And while he's best known as an actor, Rick said in their younger years, the family thought he'd be more likely to pursue a career in politics while Erik was thought more likely to get the acting bug.

"Along came a war, and things changed,” Rick said.

After joining the Royal Canadian Air Force at the age of 17 in 1943, Leslie returned to Canada, attending Lorne Green's broadcasting school in Toronto.

"That's what got him started,” Rick said.

A scholarship to the Neighborhood Playhouse took him to New York, where he soon got immersed in live television.

Leslie's last trip to Canada took him to Fort Norman, N.W.T., where he and his two brothers Gord (who passed away a number of years ago) and Erik spent their early years, his father serving as an RCMP officer there.

There was no time during that trip for Leslie to stop in Whitehorse, but plans were being made for a family get-together here next year when he would have turned 85.

Leslie is survived by his two daughters, Thea and Maura and his wife, Barbaree Earle.

He was previously married to Monica Boyers, Sandy Ullman (the mother of his two daughters) and Brooks Oliver.

Plans for a memorial have yet to be made.

Comments (1)

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willie thomas on Nov 29, 2010 at 9:20 am

i met leslie at the calgary stampede when he opened it for the festivities--a very nice man--my thoughts and prayers are with you ricky--rip leslie-- condolences to the family

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