Adam West, TV’s Original Batman, Dead at 88

Adam West speaking at the 2014 Phoenix Comicon in Phoenix, Arizona.Photo by: Gage Skidmore

Adam West, who starred as the caped crusader on TV’s Batman, died Friday night, a family spokesperson told The Hollywood Reporter. He was 88.

West died at his home in Los Angeles after a brief battle with leukemia.

West began acting in films in the 1950s, his career spanned seven decades. West played opposite Chuck Connors in Geronimo (1962) and The Three Stooges in The Outlaws Is Coming (1965). He also appeared in the science fiction film Robinson Crusoe on Mars (1964), and performed voice work on The Fairly OddParents, The Simpsons, and Family Guy, playing fictional versions of himself in all three.

West was born on September 19, 1928, in Walla Walla, Washington. His father was a farmer; his mother was an opera singer and concert pianist who was forced to abandon her own Hollywood dreams to care for her family. Following her example, West stated to his father as a youth that he intended after school to go to Hollywood. He moved to Seattle when he was 15 with his mother following his parents’ divorce.

West attended Walla Walla High School during his freshman and sophomore years, and later enrolled in Lakeside School in Seattle. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in literature and a minor in psychology from Whitman College in Walla Walla, where he was a member of the Gamma Zeta Chapter of the Beta Theta Pi fraternity. He also participated on the speech and debate team. Drafted into the United States Army, he served as an announcer on American Forces Network television. After his discharge, he worked as a milkman before moving to Hawaii to pursue television.

While in Hawaii, West was picked for a role as the sidekick on a children’s show called El Kini Popo Show, which featured a chimp. West later took over as the star of the show.

In 1959, West moved with his wife and two children to Hollywood, where he took the stage name Adam West. In his autobiography Back to the Batcave, he explains he chose “Adam” simply because he liked the way it looked and sounded with “West”, his middle name.

Adam West as Det. Sgt. Steve Nelson in The Detectives (1961) [Aired on ABC 1959-1961 & NBC 1961-1962]

West appeared in the film The Young Philadelphians which starred Paul Newman He had guest-star roles in a number of television Westerns. On three Warner Bros. westerns which aired on ABC—Sugarfoot, Colt .45, and Lawman—West played the role of Doc Holliday, the frontier dentist and gunfighter. He portrayed Wild Bill Hickok in the episode “Westbound Stage” of the 1960 NBC Western series Overland Trail, with William Bendix and Doug McClure.

He guest-starred on Edmond O’Brien’s syndicated crime drama Johnny Midnight, and soon snagged a supporting role as police sergeant Steve Nelson in the crime drama, The Detectives Starring Robert Taylor. He appeared once on Walter Brennan’s sitcom, The Real McCoys.

On January 10, 1961, West appeared as a young, ambitious deputy who foolishly confronts a gunfighter named Clay Jackson, portrayed by Jock Mahoney, in the episode “The Man from Kansas” of the NBC Western series Laramie.

West made two guest appearances on Perry Mason in 1961 and 1962. His first role was as small-town journalist Dan Southern in “The Case of the Barefaced Witness”. His other role was as folk singer Pete Norland in “The Case of the Bogus Books”.

West starred in an episode of the ABC Outer Limits series titled “The Invisible Enemy”. He made a brief appearance in the film Soldier in the Rain starring Jackie Gleason and Steve McQueen, and starred as Major Dan McCready, the ill-fated mission commander of Mars Gravity Probe 1 in the 1964 film Robinson Crusoe on Mars. In 1965, he was cast in the comedy Western The Outlaws Is Coming, the last feature film starring The Three Stooges. He played Christopher Rolf in the episode “Stopover” of ABC’s The Rifleman, which aired on April 25, 1961.

1960s and 1970s
Batman

Adam West as Batman with Burt Ward as Robin [20th Century Fox Television & ABC Television 1966]

Producer William Dozier cast West as Bruce Wayne and his alter ego, Batman, in the television series Batman, in part after seeing West perform as the James Bond-like spy Captain Q in a Nestlé Quik commercial. He was in competition with Lyle Waggoner for the Batman role.

In his Batman character, West appeared in a public service announcement where he encouraged schoolchildren to heed then-President Lyndon B. Johnson’s call for them to buy U.S. Savings stamps, a children’s version of U.S. savings bonds, to support the Vietnam War.

In 1970, West was offered the role of Bond by Cubby Broccoli for the film Diamonds Are Forever. West did not accept, later stating in his autobiography that he believed the role should always be played by a British actor.

Post-Batman career

Burt Ward (Robin), Adam West (Batman), and Yvonne Craig (Batgirl) pose with the famous Batmobile created by George Barris. (1967)

After his high-profile role, West, along with Burt Ward and Yvonne Craig (who played crime-fighting sidekicks Robin and Batgirl), was severely typecast. West’s first post-Caped Crusader role was in the film The Girl Who Knew Too Much (1969). His lead performance against type as cynical tough guy Johnny Cain did not erode his Batman image; the movie was a box office disappointment.

For a time, West made a living doing personal appearances as Batman. In 1974, when Ward and Craig reprised their Batman roles for a TV public-service announcement about equal pay for women, West was absent. Instead, Dick Gautier filled in as Batman.

Adam West as Batman on the cover of the March 25, 1966 edition of TV Guide.

One of his more memorable Batman appearances after the series was when he made an appearance in the Memphis, Tennessee-based United States Wrestling Association to engage in a war of words with Jerry “The King” Lawler while wearing the cowl and a tracksuit, and even name-dropping Spider-Man, though he is a Marvel Comics hero.

West subsequently appeared in the theatrical films The Marriage of a Young Stockbrocker (1971), The Curse of the Moon Child (1972), The Specialist (1975), Hooper (as himself; 1978), The Happy Hooker Goes Hollywood (1980) and One Dark Night (1983). West also appeared in such television films as The Eyes of Charles Sand (1972), Poor Devil (1973), Nevada Smith (1975), For the Love of It (1980) and I Take These Men (1983).

He did guest shots on the television series; Maverick, Diagnosis: Murder, Love, American Style, Bonanza, The Big Valley, Night Gallery, Alias Smith and Jones, Mannix, Emergency!, Alice, Police Woman, Operation Petticoat, The American Girls, Vega$, Big Shamus Little Shamus, Laverne & Shirley, Bewitched, Fantasy Island, The Love Boat, Hart to Hart, Zorro, , and George Lopez. West was also in an episode of Bonanza that supposedly never aired until reruns were shown and he made several guest appearances as himself on Family Feud. In 1986, he starred in the comedy police series titled The Last Precinct.

1980s
Return to Batman

West often reprised his role as Batman/Bruce Wayne, first in the short-lived animated series The New Adventures of Batman, and in other shows such as The Batman/Tarzan Adventure Hour, Tarzan and the Super 7, Super Friends: The Legendary Super Powers Show, and The Super Powers Team: Galactic Guardians (succeeding Olan Soule in the role).

In 1979, West once again donned the Batsuit for the live-action TV special Legends of the Superheroes. In 1985, DC Comics named West as one of the honorees in the company’s 50th-anniversary publication Fifty Who Made DC Great for his work on the Batman series.

Adam West with a robe on over his Batman costume at 20th Century Fox Studios (1967)

West was considered to play Thomas Wayne, Bruce Wayne’s father, in Tim Burton’s Batman. Originally, he wanted to play Batman. West never appeared in any of the theatrically released post-1960s Batman franchise motion pictures and, to date, neither has Burt Ward (Robin, from the TV series). West made an appearance in a 1992 episode of Batman: The Animated Series on Fox, but not as Batman (as the role of Batman was already being played by Kevin Conroy). Instead, he portrayed Simon Trent, a washed-up actor who used to play a superhero in a TV series called The Gray Ghost and who now has difficulty finding work. The producers nearly considered scrapping that episode, as they figured it mirrored West too much; however, West gladly accepted voicing such a character. West later had a recurring role as the voice of Mayor Grange in the WB animated series The Batman.

The actor vocally reprised his role as Batman for the CGI-animated short film Batman: New Times. He co-starred with Mark Hamill, who vocally portrayed The Joker and had originally played the role on Batman: The Animated Series. West also voiced Thomas Wayne in an episode of the cartoon series Batman: The Brave and the Bold. In the same series, he played Batman’s prototype robot, named “Protobot”.

1990s–2000s

During the 1990s, West’s status as a pop culture icon led to appearances as himself in the film Drop Dead Gorgeous and in several TV series, including NewsRadio, Murphy Brown, The Adventures of Pete and Pete, The Ben Stiller Show, and The Drew Carey Show. He notably appeared as “Dr. Wayne” in the 1990 Zorro episode “The Wizard”, even being shown Zorro’s “secret cave” headquarters. In 1991, he starred in the pilot episode of Lookwell, in which he portrayed a has-been TV action hero who falsely believes he can solve mysteries in real life. The pilot, written by Conan O’Brien and Robert Smigel in their pre-Late Night period, aired on NBC that summer but was not picked up as a series. It was later broadcast on the Trio channel, under the “Brilliant But Cancelled” block. In 1994, West played a non-comedic role as the father of Peter Weller’s character in the Michael Tolkin film The New Age.

He played a washed-up superhero in the Goosebumps television series episode “Attack of the Mutant”. The boy hero is a comic book geek whose favorite superhero, Galloping Gazelle (West’s character), is portrayed as fading and on the verge of retirement. Towards the end, the boy is shocked to learn that the Gazelle is real, though he (the boy) must save the day by himself.

In 1994, West, with Jeff Rovin, wrote his autobiography, Back to the Batcave published by Berkeley Books. He also appeared as a guest in the animated talk show Space Ghost Coast to Coast in an episode titled “Batmantis”, where he displayed his book. That episode was essentially a parody of his Batman television series, where Zorak dressed himself as “Batmantis”, a praying mantis version of Batman.

In 1996, Virgin Interactive released the gambling simulation game Golden Nugget on PlayStation. West acted in the video cut scenes of the “Chaos Mystery” storyline subgame. In 2001, he played the super-villain Breathtaker on the short-lived television series Black Scorpion.

Adam West at the 41st Emmy Awards 9/17/89. By photo by Alan Light, CC BY 2.0.

In 2003, West and Burt Ward starred in the television movie Return to the Batcave: The Misadventures of Adam and Burt, alongside Frank Gorshin, Julie Newmar, and Lee Meriwether. Jack Brewer portrayed West in flashbacks to the production of Batman.

In 2005, West appeared on the CBS show The King of Queens. In the episode, Spence first asks Lou Ferrigno to go to a sci-fi convention, but when Spence meets West (playing himself), he leaves Ferrigno and asks West to come with him. He appears prominently in the 2006 video for California band STEFY’s song “Chelsea” as “Judge Adam West”, presiding over the courtroom scene.

In 2007, West played an attorney for Benny on the show George Lopez, and starred as “The Boss” in the movie comedy Sexina: Popstar PI. Following the release of a Batman game, a host of the show X-Play visited West on the show. In 2009, West played himself in the episode “Apollo, Apollo” of 30 Rock.

2010s

In 2010, a Golden Palm Star on the Palm Springs Walk of Stars was dedicated to him. West received the 2,468th star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on April 5, 2012. His star is located at 6764 Hollywood Boulevard in front of the Guinness Museum in Hollywood, California. West appeared in a number of videos for Funnyordie.com.

He was interviewed in 2013 on the PBS series called Pioneers of Television in the season-three episode called “Superheroes”. Also in 2013, he was the subject of the documentary Starring Adam West.

West is among the interview subjects in Superheroes: A Never-Ending Battle, a three-hour documentary narrated by Liev Schreiber that premiered on PBS in October 2013.

In October 2014, West was a guest star on the HuffPost Live show, talking about his Batman role and the upcoming release of all 120 episodes of his Batman series.

In February 2016, West guest-starred as himself on the 200th episode of The Big Bang Theory.

Personal life

West married Billie Lou Yeager in 1950, and they divorced in 1956. He married Ngahra Frisbie in 1957, and they divorced in 1962. Together, they had two children.
West married Marcelle Tagand Lear in 1970. Together, they had four children.

During the Batman television series, West’s relationship with co-star Burt Ward has been described as “problematic”. He said “Burt fell victim to making up stories to sell books. But in a way it was flattering, because he made me sound like King Kong.” West said that he played Batman “for laughs, but in order to do [that], one had to never think it was funny. You just had to pull on that cowl and believe that no one would recognize you.”

Death

Adam West as Batman take a call on the Batphone

West died in Los Angeles on June 9, 2017 following a brief battle with leukemia. He was 88.

 

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