Adam West (1928-2017)

Adam West. Photo by Gage Skidmore.

Adam West, who became an icon of popular culture playing Batman in the campy TV series of the Sixties, died June 9 at the age of 88.

He started acting as a teenager in several productions of the Philco-Goodyear Television Playhouse (1954-1955), but it was another four years before his career really took off.

TV was full of Westerns in the late Fifties and the fittingly-named West popped up in a lot of them, the highlights being several episodes of Maverick, and playing the Doc Holliday character on three different ABC series during the 1959 season, Lawman, Colt .45, and Sugarfoot.

He made his feature movie debut in The Young Philadelphians with Paul Newman in 1959.

West’s first genre film was Robinson Crusoe on Mars (1964) — he played the astronaut who didn’t make it, leaving Paul Mantee’s title character on his own. That same year West again played a crewman in a Mars expedition on TV’s Outer Limits.

Starring in Batman two nights a week, from 1966-1968, vaulted him into celebrity status, accompanied by Burt Ward as Robin the Boy Wonder. The earnest character from the comic books was subverted and played for comedy, befitting a 1960s American society with conflicted attitudes about law enforcement, with colorful psychedelic imagery, and absurd visual sound effects in the spirit of Roy Lichtenstein’s pop art paintings. During its first season Batman was a huge success, rated the number 10 program on Wednesdays and number 5 on Thursdays.

However, by the end of Season 3 ratings had fallen off to a degree that the show was canceled.

West’s identification with the Batman character was so strong it kept him from resuming his former career of playing dramatic characters, as it was always feared that audiences would be thinking about the silly TV show when he was onscreen. He continued to work, but within options limited by his association with the character.

Adam West’s genre work in the years after Batman included Night Gallery (1971), an astronaut again in the TV movie Time Warp (1981), and Omega Cop (1990).

He also voiced Batman in the animated series The New Adventures of Batman, and for episodes of Tarzan and the Super 7, and Legends of the Superheroes, SuperFriends: the Legendary Super Powers Show, and The Super Powers Team: Galactic Guardians. However, as a voice actor in Batman:The Animated Series, he played The Gray Ghost. For The Animaniacs he was Spruce Wayne, The Caped Crusader. And in a later series, The Batman, he voiced Mayor Grunge.

In fact, over the last couple decades of his career, West became a very successful voice actor and velvet-voiced narrator. His most prominent recurring role was in Family Guy as the voice of Mayor Adam West, the horribly corrupt, inept and vain leader of Quahog, Rhode Island (2000-2017).

West made a rare on-camera appearance in 2016 on The Big Bang Theory when the CBS sitcom celebrated its 200th episode — and marked the 50th anniversary of Batman.

The actor is survived by his wife Marcelle, six children, five grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.

15 thoughts on “Adam West (1928-2017)

  1. Nice obit. “Psychedelic” is misspelled “psychedilic” in the 6th paragraph.

    I was 9 or 10 and an enthusiastic reader of Batman and Detective Comics when the show came on, and I enjoyed it a lot, without noticing the “camp.”

  2. What, no love for his appearance in a soft-core porn movie? Happy Hooker something. I saw it on a movie channel one night in the late 80s or early 90s and didn’t recognize him until I saw it mentioned somewhere. The next time, I, I looked at him during the scene. And, you know what? Glasses really are one hell of a disguise. I guess I owe Superman an apology.

    I also remember him from one of the Three Stooges [so to speak] movies, playing a straight man. (Okay, he played one in the other movie, too, but I am trying to move on now.)

    He might have been a good Lone Ranger, too. The wardrobe would have worked better for him than the Batman suit. (Quoting from my comment in the Pixel Scroll, his figure wasn’t quite right for the unflattering Bat-suit, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a better Bruce Wayne.)

    Gotham City should keep the Bat-Signal on all night in his honor.

  3. I of course grew up with the ’60’s Batman.

    My son, equally of course, didn’t. He saw the news first this morning, while we were waiting for lunch, and was more immediately upset than I was. Referencing his role as The Gray Ghost on Batman, the Animated Series, my son said (ok, in paraphrase) “This is where I remembered him from. Bruce Wayne was leaving a “Gray Ghost” movie with his parents when they were murdered in that show. To you, he was the Batman you grew up with. To me, he was the Batman that BATMAN grew up with.”

    Rest in peace, Adam.

  4. @Kip W.

    Young Lady Chatterley II was one West did, but I suspect The Happy Hooker Goes Hollywood is what you’re thinking of here.

  5. Adam West was a giant to me. I watched the Batman movie and TV show as often as they came on as a young child in the 1970s.

    When cable TV arrived and my parents let us watch movies without much oversight, it was quite a shock to see him in The Happy Hooker Goes Hollywood.

    West was underrated as a comic actor. His deadpan Batman performance was legendary, but he could do a lot more than Hollywood let him do. Around 15 years ago a TV series called Brilliant But Cancelled showed the pilot Lookwell, created by Conan O’Brien and Robert Smigel with West in the lead.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dBQ3HbB0c8Y

    It would have been a great sitcom and he was perfect for the role of a washed-up TV action hero who thinks being a celebrity deputy means he can solve crimes.

  6. He was still gettin’ it done 6 weeks ago, as a guest at Silicon Valley Comic Con.

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  8. West was a good actor, hampered by the US habit of typecasting actors. Henry Winkler, another talented actor, was never allowed to shake off the Fonz. In contrast, I thought Tim Curry would never be able to escape Dr Frank N Furter, but he’s had a great career as a character actor.
    R.I.P. Adam West.

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  10. Two Adam West items that are very worthwhile to watch/read:

    1) Starring Adam West was a great biographical film about him.
    2) And, of course, his autobiography Back to the Batcave.

    Both are a lot of fun–which seemd like how he viewed his later years–a lot of fun.

    A couple of years ago, IFC (in conjunction with releasing the entire Batman series on Blu-Ray), ran all the episodes of the series. Most I hadn’t seen in decades (some never at all–one season of the show conflicted with Boy Scout meetings, and there was no way to record TV shows in those prehistoric days). I was really amazed of the great satire in the scripts. Like the old Warner Brothers cartoons, the shows worked for kids on one level, and on a completely different level for the adults.

  11. The Sadness is almost unbearable. For those of us who grew up in the 60s and 70s, although the cinema has given others, very good in theirs, it was he who gave us many joys in childhood and we waited week after week the outcome of situations that astonished those who were children, Rest in peace, Batman.

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