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Posted at 8:15 AM ET, 11/29/2010

Leslie Nielsen and his legacy of one-liners

By Melissa Bell
Leslie Nielsen
Leslie Nielsen(AP)

Leslie Nielsen, the straight-faced comic, was the master of the one-line joke. As the less-than-suave Lt. Frank Drebin or the slap-happy doctor in "Airplane," Nielsen used his droll wordplay to become one of the most memorable comics of all time. He pandered toward the juvenile joke, but in a such a serious way it never came across as crass.

This story sums up the man's comic genius for me:

"Leslie kept emitting gas in a very loud and embarrassing manner," Jerry Zucker told People magazine in 1982. "We just assumed he'd been to Mexico or something. Then we found out he has this little rubber gadget that makes these terrible noises. And we realized that what we had here was a 10-year-old dipstick parading around as a genteel 50-year-old."

Everyone has got a favorite Leslie Nielsen quote. Here's mine:

And here are some others:

#cablegate "the cows have come home to roost" RIP Leslie Nielsenless than a minute ago via TweetDeck

@washingtonpost "A Hospital, what is it?" "It's a big building with patients, but that's not important right now." #nielsenlineless than a minute ago via web

Not a line, but fake freeze-frames that ended Police Squad episodes. RT @washingtonpost: http://wapo.st/fEk8oi Have a favorite #nielsenline?less than a minute ago via Seesmic for Android

Reader Scourgeofsf nominates:

"How about sex, Frank?"
"Uh, maybe later, Ed".

Gladiator2008 thought of two lines:

"You take a chance getting up in the morning, crossing the street....or sticking your face in a fan."
"It's true what they say: Cops and women don't mix. It's like eating a spoonful of Drano; sure, it'll clean you out, but it'll leave you hollow inside."

Reader Je121819 wants more than just a line remembered:

How bout when he rubbed off Gorbachev's birthmark? Or the microphone in the urinal scene? Great slapstick as well his one liners.

Groucho44 says:

What people tend to forget is that he had a long history as a dramatic actor. He was good there too. It wasn't until Airplane that his silly side showed. He was a versatile actor, good at being serious and a clown, and that's a rare joy. Remember him for both sides.

What's your favorite quote? Tweet us your top pick using #nielsenline or leave your favorite line in the comments.

Update: A reader points out that a previous line on this post "Ham on five, hold the Mayo" was Peter Graves, not Leslie Nielsen. Apologies!

By Melissa Bell  | November 29, 2010; 8:15 AM ET
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Comments


"I have a message for you from Vincent Ludwig."

"I'm sorry, I can't hear you! Don't fire the gun while you're talking."

Posted by: blasmaic | November 29, 2010 11:24 AM | Report abuse

Actually, "...Ham on five, hold the Mayo" was Peter Graves.

Posted by: AmitDC | November 29, 2010 11:43 AM | Report abuse

I know it's more difficult, but rather than quoting lines written for him by others (without acknowledging those writers), shouldn't we be celebrating HOW he delivered the lines (which was his talent), or at least mention ad-libs? We do often eulogize actors using lines they didn't write.

Posted by: Sutter | November 29, 2010 12:02 PM | Report abuse

To this day, whenever I hear someone say "Surely you understand..." I have to say, "I do understand... and stop calling me Shirley!"

Posted by: MikeTSAR | November 29, 2010 12:13 PM | Report abuse

"How about sex, Frank?"

"Uh, maybe later, Ed".

Posted by: scourgeofsf | November 29, 2010 12:14 PM | Report abuse

Busty store clerk at an adult toy store that Drebin and his men are raiding: "Is this some kind of bust?"

Drebin, looking at her cleavage: "Yes, ma'am, that's quite impressive. But that's not why we're here."

Posted by: lpm123 | November 29, 2010 12:21 PM | Report abuse

"Bingo..."

Posted by: strausssean | November 29, 2010 12:21 PM | Report abuse

"Coffee?" "Yes, it is"

Posted by: CubsFan | November 29, 2010 12:29 PM | Report abuse

"Niiiiiice beaver."
"Thanks, I just had it stuffed."

Posted by: zippyspeed | November 29, 2010 12:30 PM | Report abuse

Nothing to see here.

Posted by: jake14 | November 29, 2010 12:32 PM | Report abuse

He was hilarious. But how many people remember that he started out as a dramatic actor? He was in Forbidden Planet and The Swamp Fox, just to name two. He was evidently an incredibly talented man.

Posted by: radiomys1 | November 29, 2010 12:51 PM | Report abuse

(Long pause) "Striiike?"
Followed by the greatest parody of umpiring ever.

Posted by: mlantry | November 29, 2010 1:06 PM | Report abuse

Some guys make shoe laces, others lay sod, some make a very good living neutering animals. Me, I'm a cop.

Posted by: Candressuhmoose | November 29, 2010 1:13 PM | Report abuse

Nielsen, as Lt. Frank Drebin, is in a jazz club, getting over a breakup with Jane (Priscilla Presley), references being single, and, bellows out audibly to all other customers and employees in the club: "Single? I LOVE being single! I haven't had this much sex since I was a Boy Scout leader!" When all eyes turn on him in astonishment, he continues, "Uhhhh - I was, uh, DATING someone at the time."

Posted by: mntarheel | November 29, 2010 1:25 PM | Report abuse

"The truth hurts ... maybe not as much as jumping on a bicycle with the seat missing, but it hurts."

Posted by: sveldman2 | November 29, 2010 1:26 PM | Report abuse

"This chardonnay is not properly chilled!!!"


From Naked Gun 2 1/2....RIP Leslie!

Posted by: Section416akatheAlps | November 29, 2010 1:34 PM | Report abuse

Leslie Neilsen was on par with the great Peter Sellers and could do a wordless site gag that would make me ache with laughter. Detective Sgt. Lt. Frank Drebbin's interview of the drug dealer crime boss (played by Ricardo Montalban) and through comic genius fumbling ends up spearing the crime boss' very rare tropical fish with the crime boss' very expensive fountain pen. The look on Leslie Neilsen's face should be in the Louvre. I swear, if I were to see that scene and Peter Seller's "Correection! That used to be a priceless Steinway piano" scene in the same sitting I know I would pass out.

Posted by: whizkidz1 | November 29, 2010 1:52 PM | Report abuse

Setup: "Surely you can't be serious!"

Nielsen: "I am serious. And don't call me Shirley."

Posted by: Buddydog | November 29, 2010 2:00 PM | Report abuse

That's "Hamm on [the] white [phone], hold the Mayo..." otherwise the joke isn't as good.

Posted by: Richard-in-PA | November 29, 2010 2:02 PM | Report abuse

One line I use all the time...but it isn't a joke...is "...but that's not important right now..."

Posted by: Richard-in-PA | November 29, 2010 2:03 PM | Report abuse

"Our problems may not add up to a hill of beans. Well this is our hill and these are our beans."

Words to live by

Posted by: aboutthebeans | November 29, 2010 2:13 PM | Report abuse

My first thought when I say this "discussion section was "slow news day, or he must have died."

I am sad to see I was correct on both counts!

Posted by: wcmillionairre | November 29, 2010 2:23 PM | Report abuse

This was a hell of a funny guy, and a fine actor also.


Posted by: wcmillionairre | November 29, 2010 2:27 PM | Report abuse

"Come here little Sheba", Casablanca Nights

Posted by: state82 | November 29, 2010 2:32 PM | Report abuse

Crazy? Some people think walking down the street muttering to yourself is crazy. I'll tell you what crazy is: Crazy is walking down the street with half a cantaloupe on your head, saying: "I'm a hamster. I'm a hamster." That's crazy.

Posted by: cmcnally1 | November 29, 2010 2:42 PM | Report abuse

"Lieutenant"
"The feeling is mutual"

Posted by: Brian144 | November 29, 2010 2:45 PM | Report abuse

"Just think, the next time I shoot someone, I might get arrested."

Can't remember if that was when Frank retired or when he was booted from Police Squad.

Posted by: je121819 | November 29, 2010 2:58 PM | Report abuse

What people tend to forget is that he had a long history as a dramatic actor. He was good there too. It wasn't until Airplane that his silly side showed. He was a versatile actor, good at being serious and a clown, and that's a rare joy. Remember him for both sides.

Posted by: groucho42 | November 29, 2010 3:03 PM | Report abuse

How bout when he rubbed off Gorbachev's birthmark? Or the microphone in the urinal scene? Great slapstick as well his one liners.

Posted by: je121819 | November 29, 2010 3:04 PM | Report abuse

"Is this some kind of bust?"

"Uh, yes...it's very nice."

Posted by: familynet | November 29, 2010 3:12 PM | Report abuse

I AM Sirius, and don't call me Shirley.

From Airplane.

Posted by: AMviennaVA | November 29, 2010 3:33 PM | Report abuse

"You take a chance getting up in the morning, crossing the street....or sticking your face in a fan."

Words of wisdom.

Posted by: Gladiator2008 | November 29, 2010 4:55 PM | Report abuse

Here's another one I just remembered:

"It's true what they say: Cops and women don't mix. It's like eating a spoonful of Drano; sure, it'll clean you out, but it'll leave you hollow inside

Posted by: Gladiator2008 | November 29, 2010 5:12 PM | Report abuse

Goodbye Leslie Nielsen, I hope you enjoyed your life as much as we enjoyed it.

Posted by: eezmamata | November 29, 2010 6:16 PM | Report abuse

Sorry to be a spoilsport, but these are not Nielsen's lines. The lines are written by the scriptwriters; Nielsen is a delivery vehicle for them, and no more. A very good one yes, but still, he's just mouthing the words of others.

Lest we forget, actors are grownups who dress up in costi\umes and play "make pretend" based almost entirely on the imaginations and words created by others.

Posted by: RTL212 | November 29, 2010 7:14 PM | Report abuse

Wow, RTL212, thanks for the enlightened observations. I always thought there really was a Police Squad and Frank Drebin worked for them. What a fool I've been. Sometimes we need those reality checks—need to face the unvarnished truth, although...you know...even though Leslie Nielsen wasn't a scriptwriter, he sure made us laugh. Anyway, my best to everyone else in Pottersville.

Posted by: Bartleby45 | November 29, 2010 8:50 PM | Report abuse

Best line (delivered to Priscilla Presley's character after a lover's quarrel in public): "I faked that orgasm!"

Posted by: barkhouse | November 29, 2010 9:29 PM | Report abuse

The scene I like best was when Priscilla Presley decides to leave him. Can't remember which Naked Gun episode. Anyway he just stands their looking dumbfounded and as she is throwing her temper tantrum, she walks into her room and all her bags are packed! She walks out and the taxi is already blowing its horn! (No time interval!)

I also liked the one where this truck pulls up and it is a pet(?) company specializing in EXTINCT animals.

Posted by: SteveR1 | November 29, 2010 9:30 PM | Report abuse

I haven't seen anything this bad since the Anita Bryant concert...

Posted by: sveldman2 | November 29, 2010 11:50 PM | Report abuse

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