Adam West, the actor who brought deadpan comedy and a hero’s jutting jaw to the title character of TV’s landmark ’60s superhero series Batman, died yesterday at the age of 88. A spokesperson for the family said West died of leukemia, surrounded by family.
A cultural phenomenon from the moment it debuted on January 12, 1966 on ABC, Batman was a twice-weekly treat for children – with its comic book-style POW!s and BAM!s highlighting the climactic fight scenes – and, with its campy humor and pop-art visuals, adults as well.
A parade of weekly villains – from Cesar Romero’s Joker, Frank Gorshin’s Riddler, Burgess Meredith’s Penguin and, impeccably, Julie Newmar’s Catwoman – passed through 120 episodes from beginning to the March 14, 1968 end, but it was West and Burt Ward as his sidekick (and ward) Robin that anchored the happenings with a note-perfect send-up of stoicism.
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“Our dad always saw himself as The Bright Knight,” West’s family said in a statement, “and aspired to make a positive impact on his fans’ lives. He was and always will be our hero.”
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West is survived by his wife Marcelle, six children, five grandchildren, and 2 great-grandchildren. His career spanned six decades during which he appeared in more than 50 films and television shows, most recently as the voice of Mayor Adam West on Family Guy, and as a guest star on The Big Bang Theory.
West, a Seattle native born William West Anderson on September 19, 1928, began working in local radio while still in college, served as an announcer on American Forces Network television during an Army stint, then worked at various local TV stations, at one point landing a gig in Hawaii co-hosting a weekday show with Peaches the chimp.
A Warner Brothers contract brought a steady stream of bit roles, guest shots and series regular spots on episodic television as the ’50s eased into the ’60s: Lawman, Sugarfoot, Cheyenne, Bronco, Colt .45, 77 Sunset Strip, Hawaiian Eye, The Detectives, Bonanza, Petticoat Junction, Bewitched, and films like Tammy and the Doctor and, with the Three Stooges, The Outlaws Is Coming.
Oddly enough, it was West’s appearance in a spy-themed Nestle’s Quik commercial that got noticed by producer William Dozier, and West was soon cast, along with newcomer Ward, in the arch series about arch-villains and the Caped Crusaders who, week after week, tracked them, fought them and finally handed them over to Commissioner Gordon (Neil Hamilton) and Police Chief O’Hara (Stafford Repp).
Though the series quickly attained an odd combo of mass popularity and cult fervor, the joke – and the budget – began wearing thin just as fast, and a third season crept along without as much assistance from Yvonne Craig’s new Batgirl as might have been necessary.
West, like Ward and others who populated the California-sunny Gotham City, would never overcome the typecasting, and by 1980 was eking out a career in embarrassments like The Happy Hooker Goes Hollywood. After semi-retirement in Idaho, he’d eventually embrace his past by voicing animated programs from 1984’s Superfriends: The Legendary Super Powers Show to 2004’s The Batman (not, alas, in the title role). He became familiar to 21st Century generations via Family Guy (as Mayor Adam West), Comic-Con and other nostalgia appearances and the 2014 release of Batman on DVD.
West received a star on The Hollywood Hall of Fame star in 2012, a moment captured in James E. Tooley’s 2013 doc Starring Adam West.
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