Nielsen's middlebrow appeal made him a familiar face on American television in the '60s and '70s, an image he parodied to surprising effect in the comedy smash Airplane (1980). That and the ensuing Naked Gun film series (starting in 1988) brought him new stardom as a slapstick comedian.
Nielsen continued to tackle dramatic roles in Nuts (1987) and in a 1996 one-man stage show as Clarence Darrow. He kept audiences laughing in the '90s and beyond in Spy Hard and 2006's Scary Movie 4. Nielsen died Nov. 28, 2010, from complications of pneumonia.