Is Leslie Nielsen Related to James Arness? The Truth Behind the Hollywood Rumor

Leslie Nielsen and James Arness are two of the most iconic actors in the history of cinema and television. They have starred in countless films and shows, ranging from sci-fi classics like Forbidden Planet and The Thing to comedy hits like Airplane! and Gunsmoke. But are they related by blood? Many fans have wondered about this question for decades, as the two actors bear a striking resemblance to each other. In this article, we will explore the facts and myths behind their possible family ties.

Leslie Nielsen: A Canadian Comedy Legend

Leslie William Nielsen was born on February 11, 1926, in Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada. He was the son of Ingvard Eversen Nielsen, a Danish-born constable in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and Mabel Elizabeth Davies, a Welsh immigrant. He had an older brother, Erik Nielsen, who became a politician and served as the Deputy Prime Minister of Canada from 1984 to 1986.

Nielsen enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force in 1943 and served until the end of World War II. He then worked as a disc jockey before receiving a scholarship to study theatre at the Neighborhood Playhouse in New York City. He made his acting debut in 1950, appearing in 46 live television programs a year.

Nielsen made his film debut in 1956, with supporting roles in several dramas, westerns, and romance films. He gained recognition for his serious roles in films like Forbidden Planet (1956), The Poseidon Adventure (1972), and The Day of the Animals (1977). However, his career took a turn when he was cast as Dr. Rumack in the spoof comedy Airplane! (1980), which showcased his deadpan delivery and obliviousness to his absurd surroundings. He became a comedy star and went on to play similar roles in films like The Naked Gun series (1988-1994), based on the short-lived TV show Police Squad! (1982), which he also starred in.

Nielsen received many awards and honors for his work, including a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and an induction into Canada’s Walk of Fame. He was also appointed an Officer of the Order of Canada in 2002. He died of pneumonia on November 28, 2010, at the age of 84.

James Arness: An American Western Hero

James King Aurness was born on May 26, 1923, in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He was the son of Rolf Cirkler Aurness, a Norwegian immigrant and businessman, and Ruth Duesler, a journalist. He had a younger brother, Peter Aurness, who also became an actor and changed his last name to Graves.

Arness served in the U.S. Army during World War II and was wounded during the Anzio landings in Italy. He received the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star for his service. After his discharge, he worked as a radio announcer and studied at Beloit College in Wisconsin. He then moved to Hollywood and began his acting career in 1947.

Arness appeared in many films, mostly westerns and war dramas. He worked with legendary directors like John Ford and Howard Hawks and co-starred with famous actors like John Wayne and Kirk Douglas. Some of his notable films include The Thing from Another World (1951), Hondo (1953), Them! (1954), Gun the Man Down (1956), and The Alamo (1960).

However, Arness is best known for his role as Marshal Matt Dillon in the long-running TV series Gunsmoke (1955-1975), which is considered one of the greatest western shows of all time. He played the character for 20 seasons and 635 episodes, making him one of the longest-serving actors in a single role on television. He also reprised his role in five TV movies between 1987 and 1994.

Arness received many awards and honors for his work, including three Emmy nominations, a Golden Globe nomination, a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and an induction into the Western Performers Hall of Fame. He was also named one of the Great Western Stars by True West magazine. He died of natural causes on June 3, 2011, at the age of 88.

Despite their physical resemblance and similar careers, Leslie Nielsen and James Arness are not related by blood. They have different ethnic backgrounds, different parents, different siblings, different birthplaces, different citizenships, and different last names.

The confusion may stem from the fact that Nielsen’s brother Erik Nielsen had the same name as Arness’s father Rolf Aurness before he changed it to Nielsen. However, this is just a coincidence and does not imply any kinship between them.

Another source of confusion may be the fact that Nielsen co-starred with Arness’s brother Peter Graves in Airplane!, where they played the pilot and the co-pilot of the doomed flight. However, this is also just a coincidence and does not imply any kinship between them.

The only connection between Nielsen and Arness is that they were both friends and admirers of each other’s work. They met several times at various events and occasions and expressed their mutual respect and appreciation. They also shared a common love for comedy and westerns, which influenced their career choices and performances.


Leslie Nielsen and James Arness are two of the most beloved and respected actors in the history of cinema and television. They have entertained millions of fans with their memorable roles and characters. However, they are not related by blood, despite their physical resemblance and similar careers. They are simply two great artists who happened to cross paths and become friends. According to In the 1980s, they are not related by blood, but by talent and humor.

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