Adam West

Adam West Headshot

Actor

Birth Date: September 19, 1928

Death Date: June 9, 2017

Birth Place: Walla Walla, Washington

Pundits of a less-than-kind nature summed up actor Adam West's career in one simple sentence: he played Batman on TV. Thought he was a prolific actor, none of his credits prior to or after the iconic 1960s television series eclipsed it in popularity or cultural influence, and for many years, West relied on public appearances in his Batman costume to make ends meet. But like many actors who found themselves typecast by a single role, he handled the public myopia and critical brickbats with exceptional good humor; that self-deprecating attitude eventually helping to make him an in-demand guest star and voice-over artist for numerous cartoons, including a fictional (and deeply deluded) version of himself on "Family Guy" (Fox, 1999-2002; 2005- ). When Adam West died of leukemia on June 9, 2017 at the age of 88, generations of fans and peers mourned the loss of one of pop culture's most endearing figures.

Born William West Anderson in Walla Walla, WA on Sept. 19, 1928, West was a comic book fan from an early age; ironically, counting Batman among his favorites. When in his early teens, his mother remarried and took him and his brother John to live in Seattle, where West attended the private Lakeside School. After graduation, he studied literature and psychology at Whitman College in Walla Walla. While a senior there, he met and married his first wife, Billie Lou Yeager. He later continued his education with post-graduate classes at Stanford.

West's rich, sonorous voice was a natural for radio, so he naturally segued into DJ jobs during and after his stints in college. In the early 1950s, he was drafted into the Army and served two years, during which he traveled through Southern California and Europe with his wife. After his discharge, he worked a series of day jobs before trying his hand at acting. His first job - sidekick on a forgotten children's television program called "The Kini Popo Show" - required him to move to Hawaii. He eventually replaced the show's original star (his friend Carl Hebenstreit), and in 1956, divorced Yeager to marry a local girl, Ngatokoruaimatauaia Frisbie Dawson, with whom he had a daughter, Jonelle (born 1957) and son, Hunter (born 1958).

After landing a few bit parts in minor pictures, West realized that he needed to live in Hollywood if he was to succeed in acting. He and his family moved there in 1959, where he began making the rounds under a new name - Adam West. It was not long before Warner Bros. signed him to a contract and placed him in numerous television series and features. His big break came in 1959 as Diane Brewster's impotent husband in "The Young Philadelphians" opposite Paul Newman and Robert Vaughn. Countless guest shots followed before he was signed to "The Detectives" (ABC, NBC, 1959-1962), a police drama built for veteran leading man Robert Taylor. The series folded in 1962, leaving West to return to a regular routine of television appearances and the occasional film role, though the latter tended towards the low-budget end of the spectrum, including such gems as "Tammy and the Doctor" (1963); "Robinson Crusoe on Mars" (1964); "The Outlaws is Coming" (1965), with the aging Three Stooges; and an Italian Western, "The Relentless Four" (1965).

After seeing West play a James Bond-esque spy on a TV ad for Nestle's Quik, producer William Dozier tapped him to play the Caped Crusader in a deliberately camp, pop art-influenced TV series based on the venerable comic book, called simply "Batman" (ABC, 1966-68). The series' tongue-in-cheek tone, helped immensely by West's straight-faced and deliberately stilted performance as Batman/Bruce Wayne, caught on immediately with children and adults. Even Hollywood was not immune to the show's wacky charms, with a host of actors who ordinarily would not have deigned to appear on a TV show of its caliber, lining up to play one of the rotating rogues' gallery of villains. A 1966 feature film of the same name was released at the end of the show's first season, only cementing Bat-mania's grip on TV viewers. With this new success, West found himself at the center of a pop culture and marketing phenomenon rivaled only by the Bond franchise or music acts like The Beatles.

But by the launch of the 1967-1968 season, much of the fizz had gone out of "Batman;" the episodes became interchangeable, and not even the arrival of shapely Yvonne Craig as Batgirl could pull the series out of its tailspin. By 1968, the death knell had been sounded for "Batman" - a last-ditch attempt to rescue the show by NBC was neutralized when ABC demolished the sets. And West found himself back among the pool of unemployed actors hunting for their next gig. Unfortunately, his meteoric rise to stardom had also left him hopelessly typecast as Batman. For the next decade, he bounced between unremarkable TV appearances and failed feature films - though there were a few exceptions, most notably "The Marriage of a Young Stockbroker" (1971) and "Hooper" (1978), both of which made excellent use of his dry comic skills. More often than not, he was forced to don the Batman suit for personal appearances at conventions and county fares. In 1977, he and Burt Ward - who had played Robin in the live action series, and whose post-"Batman" career was in an even worse state than West's - reteamed as the Dynamic Duo for "The New Adventures of Batman" (CBS, 1977-78). West would later go on to voice Batman in several cartoons, including "Super Friends: The Legendary Super Powers Show" (ABC, 1984-85) and "The Super Powers Team: Galactic Guardians" (ABC, 1985-86). He also wore the Batsuit for the bizarre live-action special "Legends of the Superheroes" (1979), and still managed to survive with his dignity intact.

By the 1980s, West was a regular face on episodic series, even starring in the short-lived comedy "The Last Precinct" (ABC, 1986), which gave him a good opportunity to display his comic chops. But feature work for him was dire - including such horror movies as "One Dark Night" (1983), or sex comedies like "The Happy Hooker Goes to Hollywood" (1980), the latter of which requiring West to dress in drag. But by the early 1990s, a generation of kids who had grown up watching "Batman" during its initial run or later in reruns, began to reach out to him for small but showy roles in their TV and movie projects. The best of these was "Lookwell" (1991), an NBC pilot penned by Conan O'Brien and Robert Smigel about a thick-skulled star of a cancelled TV cop show (West) who believes he can solve crimes in real life. The pilot was never picked up, but it showed that West had honed his comic style -- smug, self-satisfied, and completely oblivious to his own ineptitude -- to a precise level. He soon found himself in demand to play variations of this part (often as denser versions of himself), and with the sudden boom in all things Batman - thanks to the 1989 feature version with Tim Burton - West found himself in the middle of a career revival. He even went on record as admitting he was disappointed that he was not offered a shot at the lead for the Burton film, but dealt with the blow admirably.

West balanced regular voice-over work on cartoons - including a stint on "Batman: The Animated Series" (Fox, 1992-95), as Simon Trent, an actor typecast by a superhero role - with frequent television and the occasional film role. The best of these was Peter Weller's father in Michael Tolkin's droll "The New Age" (1994), and the comedy "Drop Dead Gorgeous" (1999), which cast him as the host of an appalling teen beauty pageant. He also made peace with his costumed past by publishing his autobiography, Back to the Batcave (1994), and appearing alongside Ward in "Return to the Batcave: The Misadventures of Adam and Burt," a 2003 TV special in which he and Ward recounted the highs and lows of their time in the spotlight. His voice-over work became more high-profile as the 1990s slipped into the next decade: he could be heard voicing failed heroes, pompous authority figures, and even comic versions of himself on "The Simpsons" (Fox, 1989- ); "Kim Possible (Disney Channel, 2002-07); and recurring stints on "The Fairly OddParents" (Nickelodeon, 2001- ), as himself; "The Batman" (WB, 2004-08), as Mayor Grange); and most notably "Family Guy." In the latter show, he hilariously voiced a fairly demented version of himself; albeit one who serves as the mayor of the fictional Quahog, Rhode Island. West's voice was also heard in the animated features "Chicken Little" (2005) and "Meet the Robinsons" (2007) and on the '80s-inspired cop comedy "Moonbeam City" (Comedy Central 2015). West also appeared as himself in epsiodes of "30 Rock" (NBC 2006-2013), "The Big Bang Theory" (CBS 2007-2019) and sketch comedy series "Betty White's Off Their Rockers" (NBC/Lifetime 2012-14). The affectionate documentary "Starring Adam West" (2013) told the actor's story in his own words. Adam West died of leukemia in Los Angeles on June 9, 2017. He was 88.

Credits

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Betty White's Off Their RockersStream

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2011

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2010

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2007
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2007

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2005
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Adam West
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