Neighbors call Nielsen low-key, `delightful' to all

From the 28th floor of the Point of Americas complex, Leslie Nielsen — aka Lt. Frank Drebin — could look out over the beach, Port Everglades and downtown Fort Lauderdale.

The star of Airplane!, The Naked Gun and other movies that made use of his square-jawed looks and comic timing, who died Sunday, tooled around town in an eye-catching antique Bentley. But otherwise he lived a low-key life in Fort Lauderdale, socializing with friends and traveling frequently with his wife Barbaree.

“I was at the pool this morning, and there were people who were very surprised that he lived in the building,” said his neighbor Margaret Farragher.

“He was a very pleasant guy,” she said. “Our children know every line of his movies, and he was delightful to them.”

Bob Bell, a general contractor who lives on an adjacent floor, became friends with Nielsen after meeting him at a photo shoot at the pool.

“He’s very laid back and fun, just like you see him on film,” said Bell, whose Facebook page displays a photo of himself and Nielsen with Point of Americas in the background.

“They traveled quite a bit. They had a place in Arizona, and they always traveled extensively. Last time I ran into them they were going on a two-week cruise.”

Bell said Nielsen displayed a sense of humor in keeping with his movie lines.

(When a character in Airplane! says “Surely you can’t be serious?” he responds with a deadpan “I am serious. And don’t call me Shirley.”)

One evening, Bell recalled, Nielsen and his wife were planning on duck for dinner.

“He kept ducking,” Bell said. “Every time someone said the word `duck’ he would duck.”

And on his birthday, Bell received a card from Nielsen and his wife that said, “Another year older? Surely you can’t be serious.”

Nielsen died of complications from pneumonia at Holy Cross Hospital, with his wife and friends by his side. He was 84.

He received a lifetime achievement award at the 2002 edition of the Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival, where he introduced a screening of the 1956 sci-fi cult classic Forbidden Planet. In the festival program, Nielsen offered a typical dead-pan perspective on his career:

“I have no goals or ambition,” he said.

“I do, however, wish to work enough to maintain whatever celebrity status I have so that they will continue to invite me to golf tournaments.”


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