Published: Nov 29, 2010 7:59 PM EST
Updated: Nov 29, 2010 4:59 PM EST

LOS ANGELES (AP) - Despite decades spent playing sober commanders and serious captains, Leslie Nielsen insisted that he was always made for comedy. He proved it in his career's second act.

"Surely you can't be serious," an airline passenger says to Nielsen in "Airplane!" the 1980 hit that turned the actor from dramatic leading man to comic star.

"I am serious," Nielsen replies. "And don't call me Shirley."

The line was probably his most famous - and a perfect distillation of his career.

Nielsen, the dramatic lead in "Forbidden Planet" and "The Poseidon Adventure" and the bumbling detective Frank Drebin in "The Naked Gun" comedies, died on Sunday in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. he was 84.

The Canada native died from complications from pneumonia at a
hospital near his home, surrounded by his wife, Barbaree, and
friends, his agent John S. Kelly said in a statement.

Critics argued that when Nielsen went into comedy he was being cast against type, but Nielsen disagreed, saying comedy was what he intended to do all along.

"I've finally found my home - as Lt. Frank Drebin," he told The Associated Press in a 1988 interview.

Comic actor Russell Brand took to Twitter to pay tribute to Nielsen, playing off his famous line: "RIP Leslie Nielsen. Shirley, he will be missed."