The Archive

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Cast of Airplane!

Before appearing in Airplane!, Peter Graves was best known as the star of Mission: Impossible from 1967 to 1973. (That would be the television show, not the movie series starring Tom Cruise and Special Effects.) In Airplane!, he played the captain of the flight. Barbara Billingsley, the Jive-speaking lady from the movie, was of course famous in the 1950s and early 60s as the mother on Leave It to Beaver. Meanwhile, Leslie Nielsen, the most famous of the three, was a major dramatic actor before Airplane!, but had his career transformed into almost exclusively comedic roles by the 1980 film.

All three of these actors passed away this year: Graves on March 14, Billingsley on October 16, and most recently Nielsen on November 28. They followed Stephen Stucker/Johnny (d. 1986), Lloyd Bridges (d. 1998), and Robert Stack (d. 2003). It would seem the only major cast members left from the first movie are Robert Hays, Julie Hagerty, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (sorry, Lorna Patterson). Although you're forgiven for not remembering them. Hagerty did appear in a couple very low profile films in 2009, while Hays' most recent credit was the awful 2008 Superhero Movie (oddly enough, one Leslie Nielsen found himself stuck in as well).

Perhaps the news about Graves, Billingsley, and Nielsen was not overly surprising. It's now been exactly 30 years since the movie came out, and a lot of the cast members were on the late side of 50 at the time of filming. In fact, much of the humor of the casting of Graves, Nielsen, Bridges, and Stack was the serious nature of their careers to that point. Nevertheless, 30 years is some time; the average age of the three who died this year was 86. So perhaps the stories were not really surprising when they arose, but 30 years is, in addition to a long time, a milestone, and the timing was certainly somewhat unfortunate.

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