Adam West, who portrayed Batman in the 1966 television show and movie has died after a short battle with leukemia, according to Variety. He was 88 years old.
William West Anderson was born in Washington in 1928, and was drafted into the US Army, where he worked for the American Forces Network. After being discharged, he settled in Hawaii, where he landed his first television roles, and later moved to Hollywood, California. There, he played in shows such as Sugarfoot, Lawman, Overland Trail, and others. He was particularly known as the spokesperson for Nestle’s Quik, playing a James Bond-style character called Captain Quik, which helped him land the role for which he would be best known.
West’s portrayal of Bruce Wayne’s Batman in the campy, 1966 television show and film helped establish his career as an actor. In his book, The Caped Crusade: Batman and the Rise of Nerd Culture, Glen Weldon notes that it was his voice that set West apart while auditioning for the role:
“As he delivers each line, his voice slithers through different registers and volumes. He inserts pauses that are not merely pregnant but two weeks overdue. Those pauses were of course a deliberate choice — he wanted the viewer to see Batman’s intellectual processes, the way he thought through a puzzle and excitedly seized upon the answer.”
The show lasted for 120 episodes, and alongside Burt Ward (as Robin), Frank Gorshin (Riddler), Burgess Meredith (The Penguin), Cesar Romero (The Joker), and Lee Meriwether and Julie Newmar (both played Catwoman), he portrayed a light, humorous take on the Dark Knight at a time when comic books were written as humorous distractions, rather than the grim, realistic stories that they would later become in the 1980s.
Following his time on Batman, West found himself typecast, but appeared in a number of films and television shows, such as Bonanza, Fantasy Island, and The Last Precinct. He also reprised his role as Batman in several animated shows, such as The New Adventures of Batman, and Super Friends: The Legendary Super Powers Show.
In recent decades, West established a resurgence, aided by appearances as himself in Fox’s animated comedy, Family Guy, and voiced characters in a variety of shows, such as The Simpsons, Futurama, and even Batman: The Animated Series.
Despite its campy nature, Batman became a classic show, full of over the top acting, fantastic bat gadgets, and West’s performances. In a later biography, Back to the Batcave, West noted that he was “angry and disappointed,” at not being able to reprise his role as Batman in Tim Burton’s take on the character, and wasn’t happy with the darker turn the character has taken in recent years.
Yet, while hardcore comic fans scorned the show for its lighter tone, Batman helped define the character for the character for a generation of viewers. Weldon notes that Batman was the “first, dazzling weekday-afternoon introduction to the concept of superheroes in general and Batman in particular,” thanks in part to West’s portrayal.
His Batman co-star, Burt Ward, said in a statement that he is “devastated at the loss of one of my very dearest friends. Adam and I had a special friendship for more than 50 years. We shared some of the most fun times of our lives together; our families have deep love and respect for each other. This is a terribly unexpected loss of my lifelong friend, I will forever miss him.”
In a statement, his family said that West “always saw himself as The Bright Knight and aspired to make a positive impact on his fans' lives. He was and always will be our hero.”
Updated to add statement form Burt Ward.