Leslie Nielsen, Airplane

Paramount Pictures

Leslie Nielsen made us laugh.

For any other performer, that's enough to rate in our book. But Nielsen, who died Sunday, wasn't any other performer.

Here are five more reasons we loved him:

1. He had two, no, three careers: By our count, Nielsen was a working actor (with a reported 1,500 TV credits); a solid, sturdy, arguably square leading man (the captain of the original Poseidon Adventure, no less); a short-lived TV star on the short-lived Police Squad!; and, finally, the king of the spoof movie. Better make that four careers. 

2. He was "out-acted" by Robby the Robot—and was a good sport about it: Nielsen starred in 1956 sci-fi classic Forbidden Planet, his most enduring early career credit, but the film's fantastic sets and even-more fantastic bucket of bolts got all the attention. No matter to Nielsen. Years later, the amiable actor sounded grateful that the film kept "getting discovered by new generations."

3. He found his true calling at age 54: "I've always been a closet comedian," Nielsen confessed to the New York Times in 1993. The actor funnyman was outed in 1980's Airplane!

4. He became money at age 62: The funniest part of Nielsen's funny unconventional career? After Airplane! proved how good he was at deadpan humor, he promptly got Police Squad!, which promptly got canceled (it only lasted six episodes), which led Nielsen back to character and supporting work that didn't call on him to prove how good he was at deadpan humor. (He did, however, get to prove how good he was at scary-sinister in 1982's Creepshow.) It wasn't until Naked Gun hit in 1988 that Nielsen finally, finally, finally broke big, and broke out. The wait was worth it. For him. And for the audience.

5. The shootout with Sally Decker: Your favorite Nielsen moment? Maybe it's on this list. Ours is above, from the first episode of Police Squad! All together now: "Sgt. Takeheraway… Sgt. Booker…"

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