Famous people are always making the news. They’re getting married, or they’re getting divorced, or they’re going into rehab or they’re going into politics or they have a baby or they die or whatever. It’s all over the mainstream media and it flows straight over me like so much hot air.
Celebrities really don’t interest me. I mean, I’ll pass an approving comment if they make a good movie/song/political point/sporting achievement or whatever. But in general the births, deaths and marriages of the rich and famous go on around me like background noise at a soccer match; you can’t really avoid it, but you can tune out to it if you’re focussed enough on the stuff that matters.
This week was different. This week it wasn’t just another star from a TV show I’ll never watch dating a singer of songs I’ll never listen to. This week I lost a childhood icon. When I learned on Monday morning that Leslie Nielsen had passed away, I was genuinely affected by it in a way that celebrity news never achieves with me. As I read the headline on a news website, I actually exclaimed “Oh No!” out loud in the middle of my open plan office, prompting co-workers around me to enquire as to what was wrong. As I explained that Leslie Nielsen had died, all the cool ones joined me in a reflective chorus of “Surely you can’t be serious!”
Leslie Nielsen taught me how to be funny. Some might argue that he didn’t do a particularly good job, but that’s neither here nor there. I honestly couldn’t tell you how many of our teenaged hours my mates and I spent on various lounge room floors watching the Naked Gun or Flying High (AKA Airplane) movies. Very rarely do the terms ‘laugh out loud’ and ‘roll on the floor laughing’ literally mean what they say, but watching those films, even for the fourth or fifth time, they certainly did. I’ve never heard of anyone literally laughing his or her arse off, but if anyone could have induced such a phenomenon, it was Lieutenant Frank Drebin. They really don’t make films like that anymore. More’s the pity.
It probably says something about my rather non-standard cultural upbringing that I can provide an endless selection of Naked Gun quotes, and yet to this day have never seen Titanic, Top Gun or any of the Terminator movies, all of which were massivly popular amongst my peers during my school years and all of which start with T. Admittedly, Top Gun was released when I was only three, but there again, Flying High was released before I was born. Make of that what you will.
Leslie Nielsen was the one who first taught me the value of saying something utterly absurd and keeping a straight face while doing it. As I grew older my appreciation of this undervalued art would be shaped by the likes of the Monty Python crew and Shaun Micallef, but Leslie will always be my first. His most famous reply: “I am serious. And don’t call me Shirley” is still the benchmark for deadpan delivery styles.
“She was the kind of woman who made you want to get down on your knees and thank God you were a man. She had breasts that seemed to say ‘Look at me! Look at me!’ Yep; she reminded me of my mother alright.”
So farewell my old friend. Eighty four was a good innings, and you can go to your rest knowing that you helped shape at least one horribly confused teenager into the only slightly less confused man that he is today.
Good luck, and we’re all counting on you back here.
Garry with 2 Rs