Leslie NielsenI was lucky enough to meet Leslie Nielsen in the mid-1990s, at a nightclub in Boston, of all places. He was warm and wry, but not "on"; he didn't feel a need to be funny all the time. He was a perfect gentleman, full of Canadian politeness and modesty, grateful for the good fortune that had come his way with the improbable mid-career shift that had made him an overnight success at 54 after three decades of acting.

Nielsen, who died yesterday at 84, was a unique figure in the movie firmament; he was a one-man genre. Everyone knew what to expect from a Nielsen movie spoof, and everyone laughed. And I mean everyone; how many 84-year-olds have had enough youth appeal to merit an obit on MTV News? Or be mourned on Twitter by comics generations younger than he was, including Russell Brand, Patton Oswalt, David Wain and Kevin Pollak? Indeed, the whole Twittersphere is bursting today with variations on Nielsen's signature riposte from 'Airplane!': "I am serious. And don't call me Shirley."

Nielsen was indeed ageless. He seemed to have been frozen in time around 1980; ever after, he remained tall, white-haired, rugged, elegant and still eager to do pratfalls or drop bizarrely funny deadpan punchlines. It seemed like he would always be around, making spoofs and delivering a shotgun spray of physical and verbal gags. Still, it's remarkable that his comic run lasted as long as it did, especially considering what a 180 it was from his serious origins.
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