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Posted at 12:10 PM ET, 11/29/2010

Leslie Nielsen: Joining the crew of the big 'Airplane' in the sky

By Liz Kelly

"Airplane!" has been, hands down, one of my favorite movies since it crash-landed in theaters in 1980. I totally dug the corny jokes and sight gags at age 9 and still appreciate both -- along with the exaggeratedly goofy pop cultural references ("The Godfather," jive, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as co-pilot Roger Murdock) -- every bit as much 30 years later. The fact that I have 22 dialogue clips from "Airplane!" all marked as five-star favorites in my iTunes library should give you some idea of the importance of this movie to my humor sensibilities.

Leslie Nielsen, (who died Sunday at 84), delivered some of the film's most memorable lines as Dr. Rumack, including (but not limited to) the infamous "Shirley" exchange:

But Nielsen isn't the only "Airplane!" alum who has moved on to the big airplane in the sky. After the jump, we'll pay clip-show tribute to Nielsen's also resting-in-peace co-stars Lloyd Bridges, Ethel Merman, Peter Graves, Barbara Billingsley, Robert Stack and the totally under-appreciated Stephen Stucker.

Lloyd Bridges: Yep, he's Jeff and Beau's dad and a legendary star (TV's "Sea Hunt" and countless westerns) in his own right, but he's also one of the most quotable characters from "Airplane!"

Peter Graves: Graves, better known for his long-running series "Mission:Impossible" died in March. In "Airplane!" he was slightly creepy pilot Clarence Oveur who persisted in asking little Joey if he'd ever been to a Turkish prison or seen a grown man naked, but he also stole the scene from Nielsen and Robert Hays below:

In this clip, he confuses co-pilot Kareem Abdul-Jabbar with his radio lingo:

Barbara Billingsley: The "Leave it to Beaver" matriarch also died in 2010, but children of the '70s and '80s remember her equally well for her turn as a jive-talking senior citizen:

Stephen Stucker: Truly my favorite "Airplane!" character, Stucker was becoming a comedy mainstay ("Kentucky Fried Movie," "Trading Places") before his life was cut short by AIDS-related complications in 1986. He was 38. He'll always be remembered, though, as the control tower clown who could make a "hat, a brooch or a pterodactyl" out of a piece of paper:

Robert Stack: You may remember him as the longtime host of "Unsolved Mysteries," but Stack had a long and varied career in both film ("Airplane!," "Caddyshack II") and on TV ("The Untouchables.") In "Airplane!," he was charged with helping Ted Striker land a commercial airliner. Here he is fighting off a horde of do-gooders at the airport:

Ethel Merman: The legendary singer died in 1984. Despite being known as the "first lady of the musical comedy stage" (according to Wikipedia), she wasn't afraid of making fun of herself with this appearance as a soldier suffering from PTSD:

From IMDB, More memorable "Airplane!" quotes.

Related: Photo Gallery: Nielsen's career, BlogPost: Nielsen's legacy of one-liners

By Liz Kelly  | November 29, 2010; 12:10 PM ET
Categories:  Movies, Obits, Pop Culture  | Tags:  Airplane  
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Next: James Franco and Anne Hathaway will host the Oscars


At first I was kind of surprised to find no comments posted in this lovely actor's memory here, but then I recalled how often we Lizards cited his great lines while he was still alive (although I suppose it was too much to hope that he ever saw them, unless his "people" scoured Google News daily on his name). RIP Leslie Nielsen.

Posted by: Nosy_Parker | November 29, 2010 11:32 PM | Report abuse

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