8 Unforgettable Facts About Leslie Nielsen

Leslie Nielsen in 1988.
Leslie Nielsen in 1988.
Nancy R. Schiff, Getty Images

While he was originally best-known for his straight-faced leading man roles in films like 1956’s Forbidden Planet and 1972’s The Poseidon Adventure, actor Leslie Nielsen (1926-2010) experienced a late-career resurgence as a deadpan comic with impeccable instincts with films like 1980’s Airplane! and The Naked Gun franchise. For more on Nielsen, including his early career and his love of fake fart noises, keep reading.

1. Leslie Nielsen grew up near the Arctic Circle.

Leslie Nielsen and Nancy Malone as guest stars on Bonanza.NBC Television, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Born on February 11, 1926 in Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada, Leslie Nielsen was one of three sons of a Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer. The family lived in a small area named Fort Norman, just 200 miles south of the Arctic Circle. “There were 15 people in the village, including five of us,” Nielsen later said of the isolating environment. “If my father arrested somebody in the winter, he’d have to wait until the thaw to turn him in.”

2. Leslie Nielsen was a gunnery sergeant.

Nielsen talked about having an unhappy home life as a youngster, saying his father was physically abusive. When Nielsen turned 17, he decided to join the Royal Canadian Air Force, where he became a gunnery sergeant despite being legally deaf (he wore hearing aids for most of his life). After his service, Nielsen worked as a disc jockey at a Calgary radio station and attended the Academy of Radio Arts in Toronto before earning a scholarship to the Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theatre in New York. The move led to opportunities in television, where he eventually racked up more than 100 credits on shows like Rawhide and Peyton Place.

3. Leslie Nielsen believed Forbidden Planet cost him television opportunities.

Leslie Nielsen and Anne Francis in Forbidden Planet (1956).Warner Home Video

In 1956, Nielsen starred in Forbidden Planet, a well-crafted science fiction film about a spaceship crew that goes to the planet Altair IV in search of a missing group of scientists. While the movie is considered a high watermark for sci-fi of the 1950s, Nielsen believed being so identified with the film cost him opportunities in television. “It’s the reason I was never asked to do Star Trek or The Twilight Zone for TV,” he said. “I carried too much baggage with me from that movie.”

4. Leslie Nielsen was very fond of farting.

Nielsen toiled for decades in dramatic roles in both movies and television before directors David Zucker, Jerry Zucker, and Jim Abrahams hired him for 1980’s disaster movie parody Airplane! The idea was to use his serious demeanor for comic effect. (The directors also cast actors Robert Stack, Lloyd Bridges, and Peter Graves for similar reasons.) Despite Nielsen’s string of stern characters, he immediately understood the spoof style of the film. In turn, cast and crew understood that Nielsen was not a very serious person. “He had that little fart machine of his, so that every time he was interviewed on a show or something—and in real life—he would be talking with a straight face, and then he would appear to be farting,” David Zucker recalled in a 2015 interview with The A.V. Club. “That’s just what he liked to do.”

Nielsen once bragged that he had cut artificial wind in elevators, in Japan, and even in the White House.

5. Leslie Nielsen’s brother was a deputy prime minister in Canada.

Nielsen’s performing aspirations weren’t shared by his older brother, Erik. Instead, Erik got into politics, becoming a deputy prime minister for Brian Mulroney’s Conservative government and representing the Yukon for the Progressive Conservatives from 1957 to 1987. Leslie Nielsen said that Erik had a “fantastic” sense of humor.

6. Leslie Nielsen made a series of fake instructional golf videos.

Capitalizing on the success of The Naked Gun series, in 1993 Nielsen appeared in Leslie Nielsen’s Bad Golf Made Easier, a spoof of golf instructional tapes full of sight gags and puns. The actor made two follow-up videos, 1994’s Bad Golf My Way and 1997’s Stupid Little Golf Video.

7. Leslie Nielsen played Clarence Darrow on stage.

Following Airplane! and 1988’s The Naked Gun, Nielsen was forever typecast as a comic actor, which he was perfectly willing to embrace. But the performer had a soft spot for defense attorney Clarence Darrow, who earned fame in the early 20th century for his bombastic court appearances and his defense of teacher John T. Scopes and his right to teach evolution in public schools. In the 1970s and again in 1999, Nielsen appeared in Darrow, a touring one-man stage show that examined many of the lawyer’s most famous cases. Nielsen said he was often moved to tears reading many of Darrow’s summations.

Nielsen felt the stage would be the only way he would be taken seriously again. “Someday I want to play Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman, and I know I’ll be able to do it on stage because of the footlights,” he said in 1994. “They separate you from the audience and they can’t see your eyes. On film, they can see your eyes and I know I’ll never be able to play drama again in front of a camera.”

8. Leslie Nielsen used his headstone for one final joke.

Leslie Nielsen's headstone in Evergreen Cemetery in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.Avhell via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

Following Nielsen’s passing at age 84 in 2010 from pneumonia, the actor’s tombstone in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, was engraved with a message near and dear to the actor's heart. It’s a reference to his eternal affection for faux flatulence: “Let ‘er rip.”

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10 Fascinating Facts About Samuel L. Jackson

SUHAIMI ABDULLAH/GETTY IMAGES
SUHAIMI ABDULLAH/GETTY IMAGES

If you watch enough movies, you’re bound to spot Samuel L. Jackson. The 71-year-old star (he'll turn 72 on December 21, 2020) is one of the most prolific actors in Hollywood, appearing in Oscar-winning films like Pulp Fiction (1994) as well as blockbuster franchises like Jurassic Park, Star Wars, and the Marvel Cinematic Universe. From his background as an activist to the origin of his R-rated catchphrase, here are some things you should know about the Oscar-nominated actor.

1. Swearing helped Samuel L. Jackson manage his stutter.

Jamie McCarthy, Getty Images

Before he was one of Hollywood's most accomplished actors, Samuel L. Jackson had trouble speaking in front of others. He was bullied for his stutter as a child, and he avoided talking in school for nearly a year because of it. He eventually took the initiative to treat the issue on his own by researching breathing techniques at the library. He also came up with a unique anchor word: motherf***er. The expletive that helped him manage his speech impediment would also become his professional calling card later in life.

2. Samuel L. Jackson was an usher at Martin Luther King, Jr.’s funeral.

The assassination of Martin Luther King on April 4, 1968 thrust a young Jackson into the Civil Rights Movement. Jackson, who was a sophomore at Morehouse College at the time, flew from Atlanta to Memphis a few days later to march in support of a garbage workers' strike. Back in Atlanta, he agreed to be an usher at MLK’s funeral when he heard they needed volunteers. In 2018, he wrote about the experience for The Hollywood Reporter, saying, “I remember seeing people like Harry Belafonte and Sidney Poitier. People that I thought I'd never see, let alone have a relationship with later on in life. The funeral was pretty much a blur.” He later staged a lock-in at his college that got him suspended.

3. Samuel L. Jackson almost became a marine biologist.

Jackson attended college in the 1960s with the intention of becoming a marine biologist. After he held the lock-in at Morehouse, he saw a performance by the Negro Ensemble Company that inspired him to pursue acting. When his suspension ended, he switched his major to drama and joined the theater group that inspired him.

4. Samuel L. Jackson was a stand-in on The Cosby Show.

Before he made it big in Hollywood, Jackson worked as a stand-in for Bill Cosby during tapings of the sitcom. "I was the right height, and I was the right skin tone," Jackson told Vulture in 2012 about the gig. "We did the blocking, while they did the camera choreography because it was a three-camera show. For two to three years, they would put his crazy sweaters on me."

5. Samuel L. Jackson's famous Jurassic Park line was inspired by another film.

Not long before he found a permanent place on Hollywood's A-list, Jackson played a small part in Jurassic Park (1993). John “Ray” Arnold wasn’t the star of the film, but he did say one of its more memorable lines: “Hold onto your butts.” Jurassic Park screenwriter David Koepp recently revealed that he borrowed the line from director Robert Zemeckis, who uttered it before watching reshoots of his film Death Becomes Her (1992).

6. Samuel L. Jackson asked for a purple lightsaber in the Star Wars prequels.

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Jackson is such a big Star Wars fan that he immediately accepted the role of Jedi Mace Windu when George Lucas offered it to him. He did, however, make one request regarding the part: He wanted a purple lightsaber. Traditionally, lightsabers come in green for Jedi and red for Sith, but Lucas reluctantly agreed to make an exception for Mace Windu in Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones (2002). Jackson recounted the origins of his unique weapon on The Graham Norton Show: “We had this big arena, this fight scene with all these Jedi and they’re fighting or whatever. And I was like, well s***, I want to be able to find myself in this big ol’ scene. So I said to George, ‘You think maybe I can get a purple lightsaber?’”

7. Samuel L. Jackson is the highest grossing actor of all time.

Samuel L. Jackson has appeared in more than 150 movies, including blockbuster franchises like Star Wars and several of the movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, including The Avengers series. So it’s not surprising that the actor has earned the distinction of being Hollywood’s highest-grossing actor. The combined box office earnings of all his films—which includes Avengers: Endgame, the biggest money-maker of all time—add up to more than $13 billion worldwide.

8. Samuel L. Jackson has his own wig consultant.

Jackson is bald in real life, but he has sported many iconic hairstyles over the course of his movie career. His ‘dos have become such a big part of his on-screen personas that he employs his own personal hair stylist and wig consultant. Robert L. Stevenson has used Jackson’s head as a canvas on dozens of films.

9. Samuel L. Jackson appears in Kill Bill Vol. 2.

After first collaborating with director Quentin Tarantino on Pulp Fiction and Jackie Brown (1997), Jackson made a brief cameo in his Kill Bill series. The next time you watch Kill Bill Vol. 2 (2004), pay close attention to Rufus the wedding piano player—he’s played by a familiar face.

10. You can hear Samuel L. Jackson on Amazon’s Alexa.

Jackson is known for his distinctive voice and colorful vocabulary. In 2019, the actor lent his vocal talents to Amazon’s Alexa. The Samuel L. Jackson Alexa option has many of the same capabilities as regular Alexa, including playing music, setting your alarm clock, and singing “Happy Birthday.” You can even let the feature use swear words for a more authentic experience.