Adam West, who secured himself a place in pop-culture history with his enjoyably straight-faced portrayal of Batman in the 1960s hit TV series, died Friday in Los Angeles, according to his family.
“It’s with great sadness that we are sharing this news… Adam West passed away peacefully last night after a short but brave battle with leukemia,” his family said in a statement. “He was a beloved father, husband, grandfather, and great-grandfather. There are no words to describe how much we’ll miss him. We know you’ll miss him too and we want you to know how much your love and support meant to him throughout the years.”
The actor was born William West Anderson in Walla Walla, Washington, and earned a degree in literature and psychology at Whitman College. As a radio announcer, he developed his mellifluous voice.
Apart from his portrayal of Batman, West appeared in dozens of films. He turned down a license to kill: West was offered the role of Bond in 1970 when Sean Connery left the series. He refused, because he felt that Bond had to be played by a British actor. Most recently he voiced an exaggerated version of himself in the long-running Family Guy series, as the nutty Mayor of Quahog, Adam West. This returned him to the spotlight, earning a new generation of fans.
However, there is no doubt that his role as the Caped Crusader defined his career and made him a global star. Batman defeated evil with legendary lines such as “It’s obvious. Only a criminal would disguise himself as a licensed, bonded guard yet callously park in front of a fire hydrant.”
The cheeky show that made Adam West famous was an instant hit after it premiered on January 12, 1966. In fact, it was so popular that it aired twice a week (Wednesday and Thursdays at 7:30 p.m.) at its peak.
Adam West portrayed the superhero and his alter ego, millionaire Bruce Wayne, and, accompanied by Burt Ward as his sidekick Robin, they overplayed their parts, creating a ridiculous, but at the same time adorable, version of the crime duo.
Julie Newmar, who played Catwoman, told an interviewer on CNN that West had a strong connection to his fans. “People adored him,” she said. “There were long lines of people who stood to get his autograph. He was charming and open and available to them.”
The show soon developed a cult following. West brought the character to new heights, and it was thanks to him that a big-budget film franchise followed.
Although Batman lasted only two and a half seasons, ending in March 1968, West became so popular that he appeared on the cover of Life magazine. However, the role of Batman made it hard for him to get out of Batman’s shadow.
West told Variety that the role prevented him from getting other good parts; very few people would take a chance on him. Eventually he began to re-engage with the character and embraced it.
He never reclaimed the fame he achieved by portraying the superhero, but over the next 50 years West often appeared as a television guest, got dozens of small movie roles, and became a prolific voice actor, working on a great number of animated series.
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Apparently, West had no regrets and, as reported in Rolling Stone, he said that if he had the chance to do it all over again, he would.