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The vagabond turkey

That's how Leslie Nielsen later referred to his first studio film, called "The Vagabond King." It didn't do well--but fortunately for the rest of us, he did. When the news of his death arrived last night, I quickly got in touch with a small circle of friends who are fellow worshipers of the "Airplane" films--and the entire genre that he helped to create. These are friends who cannot have a conversation without including material from one of the films. A small, twisted circle of friends. In our sadness, we started emailing each other our favorite material.

What's less well known about the great Leslie Nielsen (who I had the pleasure of meeting years ago in Los Angeles) is his past: the abusive father, the deafness from a young age (and his use of dual hearing aids all his life), his time in the Royal Canadian Air Force, and his decades as a dramatic actor. His careening career change into comedy changed comedy forever. He loved to laugh--and while he could be completely serious, I don't think seriousness was his natural state. It was odd, at first, to see his obituary introduced this morning on TODAY by a beaming Al Roker...but the old cliche is true in this case: Leslie Nielsen would have wanted it that way. People like myself...and my friend Al...instantly smile when we hear his name. We can reel off dozens of his greatest lines. Leslie Nielsen would have loved knowing that people smiled when they thought of him. The world will be less funny without him.

We will remember him on the broadcast tonight, and I hope you can join us.