His agent, John. S. Kelly, confirmed that the actor died Sunday near his home in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., surrounded by his "lovely wife and friends" at 5:34 p.m. ET, due to complications of pneumonia.
Nielsen had been hospitalized for nearly two weeks as a result from pneumonia, his agent said.
"Just in this last 48 hours, the infection has gotten too much," his nephew Doug Nielsen told Canadian radio station CKNW. "He just fell asleep and passed away."
Canadian In HollywoodBorn in Saskatchewan, Canada, where his father was a member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Nielsen began his career in television in the 1950s, after training at New York's Neighborhood Playhouse.
He found early success as a dramatic actor in the 1972 blockbuster The Poseidon Adventure (he played the captain of the doomed ship) and on TV shows like Bonanza and The Fugitive.
Lasting Sense of HumorBut behind the scenes, he was reportedly known as a prankster. Landing his role as Detective Frank Drebin on TV's Police Squad would prove to be a turning point in his career, as that became the basis for the Naked Gun movies.
In 1998, the actor told The New York Times: "It's been dawning on me slowly that for the past 35 years I have been cast against type," he said, "and I'm finally getting to do what I really wanted to do."
Nielsen is survived by his fourth wife, Barbaree Lee Neilsen, and two daughters, Maura Nielsen Kaplan and Thea Nielsen Disney, both of whom appeared alongside their father in the comedies, Dracula: Dead and Loving It and Wrongfully Accused. His brother Eric was deputy prime minister of Canada from 1984 to 1986.
While Nielsen "enjoyed a more than 60 year career in motion pictures and television," as Kelly noted in his statement, his signature line from Airplane! will surely be remembered as one of comedy's best: Said Nielsen, as Dr. Rumack, "I am serious . . . and don't call me Shirley."