is a veteran of over 100 motion pictures and more than 1500 television appearances. He built a reputation portraying manly authority figures (including the Space Ship Commander in the sci-fi classic Forbidden Planet
and the Captain of the ill-fated cruise ship in The Poseidon Adventure
) before he turned his image inside out with a hysterically funny deadpan performance as the loopy doctor in Zucker, Abrahams and Zucker's Airplane!
(1980). He continued to team with the ZAZ comedy team on the TV series Police Squad!
on which he originated the role of police Lt. Frank Drebin, which he re-created in The Naked Gun
, in the 1991 sequel Naked Gun 2 1/2
and again in Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult
. Born in Regina, Saskatchewan, the son of a Canadian Mounted Policeman, Nielsen spent his earliest years living near the Arctic Circle, and later served as an aerial gunner in the Royal Canadian Air Force.
His television career began in 1950 with a Studio One appearance with Charlton Heston, and he went on to act in 46 live programs in the very heart of TV's Golden Age. In 1954, Nielsen was brought to Hollywood to star in Michael Curtiz's The Vagabond King. This was followed by a long-term contract at MGM where he starred in such films as Ransom! The Opposite Sex and The Sheepman. Later loaned to Universal, he starred in The Bachelor and Tammy and the Bachelor opposite Debbie Reynolds. Throughout the sixties and seventies Leslie was seen regularly in action series such as Wagon Train, The Fugitive, The Virginian, Cannon, Kojak, S.W.A.T. and Vegas. He also starred in seven series of his own in that period, including The New Breed, Peyton Place, The Protectors, Bracken's World and in the mini-series Backstairs at the White House. On stage, he starred in Los Angeles opposite Carol Burnett in Love Letters and toured the U.S. and Europe with Darrow. Nielsen's numerous films include Prom Night, George Romero's Creepshow, Wrong Is Right, Reckless Disregard, Soul Man, Home Is Where the Hart Is, Nuts, Repossessed (a 1990 spoof on exorcism), Surf Ninjas, Dracula--Dead, and Loving It, comedy, Spy Hard, Rent-A-Kid, Family Plan, the live-action version of Mr. Magoo, Wrongfully Accused, 2001: A Space Travesty, Kevin of the North, and the television movie Santa Who. He most recently starred in Men With Brooms.
In 2001 and 2002, Nielsen has starred in the Canadian Comedy Network series Liography. Other television credits include Who's The Boss, Golden Girls and the role of God on Herman's Head. He has appeared as the richest man in town in Evening Shade; as a Mountie on Due South and in various Hallmark specials, including Harvey in 1999. In 1995, he received UCLA's Jack Benny Award, following in the footsteps of such comedy greats as Johnny Carson, Lili Tomlin, Steve Martin, Whoopie Goldberg, George Burns and Carol Burnett.