Adam West, TV’s ‘Batman,’ Dies at 88

Adam West Batman
Fox/Greenway/Ko/REX/Shutterstock

Adam West — an actor defined and also constrained by his role in the 1960s series “Batman” — died Friday night in Los Angeles. He was 88. A rep said that he died after a short battle with leukemia.

“Our dad 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,” his family said in a statement.

West became known to a new generation of TV fans through his recurring voice role on Fox’s “Family Guy” as Mayor Adam West, the horribly corrupt, inept and vain leader of Quahog, Rhode Island. West was a regular on the show from 2000 through its most recent season. West in recent years did a wide range of voice-over work, on such shows as Adult Swim’s “Robot Chicken” and Disney Channel’s “Jake and the Neverland Pirates.”

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Adam West’s Life and Career in Photos

But it was his role as the Caped Crusader in the 1966-68 ABC series “Batman” that defined West’s career.

With its “Wham! Pow!” onscreen exclamations, flamboyant villains and cheeky tone, “Batman” became a surprise hit with its premiere on ABC in 1966, a virtual symbol of ’60s kitsch. The half-hour action comedy was such a hit that it aired twice a week on ABC at its peak. But within two seasons, the show’s popularity slumped as quickly as it soared.

West’s portrayal of the superhero and his alter ego, Bruce Wayne, ultimately made it hard for him to get other roles, and while he continued to work throughout his career, options remained limited because of his association with the character.

West also chafed against the darker versions of Bob Kane’s hero that emerged in more recent years, beginning with the Michael Keaton-starring, Tim Burton-directed adaptations that began in 1989, and followed by Christopher Nolan’s enormously successful Dark Knight trilogy.

In February 2016, CBS sitcom “The Big Bang Theory,” which had hosted a number of geek favorites over the years, celebrated its 200th episode — and marked the 50th anniversary of “Batman” — with an appearance by West.

Asked by Variety what the character of Batman has come to mean to him over five decades, West said: “Money. Some years ago I made an agreement with Batman. There was a time when Batman really kept me from getting some pretty good roles, and I was asked to do what I figured were important features. However, Batman was there, and very few people would take a chance on me walking on to the screen. And they’d be taking people away from the story. So I decided that since so many people love Batman, I might as well love it too. Why not? So I began to reengage myself with Batman. And I saw the comedy. I saw the love people had for it, and I just embraced it.”

West made his feature debut in 1959’s “The Young Philadelphians,” starring Paul Newman.

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Before he donned the mask and cape, West was a rising star in late 1950s and early 1960s TV series, notably Westerns and cop shows. He logged roles on “Lawman,” “Cheyenne,” “The FBI Story,” “Colt .45,” “77 Sunset Strip,” “Maverick,” “Hawaiian Eye,” “Bonanza,” “The Rifleman,” “Perry Mason,” “Gunsmoke,” “The Real McCoys,” “Bewitched,” “The Outer Limits” and “The Virginian,” among other programs. He was a series regular on the 1959-62 drama series “The Detectives” (which aired on ABC and later NBC), playing a police sergeant.

His film roles in this period were few and far between but included a part in the 1965 Three Stooges vehicle “The Outlaws Is Coming.”

The origins of the “Batman” series are actually quite complex, but the project eventually landed at 20th Century Fox, which handed it to producer William Dozier, who devised the show’s camp comedy sensibility.

Both West and Lyle Waggoner were considered for the part of Batman before West was cast, playing alongside Burt Ward as his sidekick Robin.

In a PBS special that touched on the show, Ward noted that West’s slow, portentous delivery was occasionally designed to eat up screen time, thus cutting into his co-star’s dialogue.

With actors like Cesar Romero (Joker) and Burgess Meredith (Penguin) comprising Batman’s rogue’s gallery of villains, the show became an almost instant success, urging viewers to tune in for the next episode at the “Same Bat-time.” The series spawned a movie — pitting the Dynamic Duo against a team-up of villains — before being canceled after three seasons due, primarily, to its high production costs.

The show came to be viewed with some contempt in comic book circles, especially after the darker vision of Batman became dominant in the ’70s and ’80s.

West found serious film work scarce following the series, though he remained in demand for personal appearances as the character and voice work, including a recurring stint on “Family Guy” and animated versions of Batman. Other roles ranged from “The Happy Hooker” and “Hooper” to the Michael Tolkin-directed movies “The Rapture” and “The New Age.”

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By many accounts, West maintained a good sense of humor about his fame and his caped alter-ego. He remained a favorite of many producers for comedy guest shots, logging roles in recent years on such shows as “30 Rock,” “George Lopez,” “The King of Queens” and this year’s short-lived NBC comedy “Powerless.”

West was also prolific as a voice actor. He worked on dozens of animated series during the past 40 years, from numerous incarnations of the Batman character to “Kim Possible,” “SpongeBob SquarePants,” “The Fairly Oddparents,” “The Boondocks” and “Penn Zero: Part-Time Hero.”

West wrote two books, one, titled “Back to the Batcave” and published in the mid-1990s, in which he said that he was “angry and disappointed” not to have been offered the chance to reprise the role in the Burton movies, despite being 60 at the time. The attendant publicity seemed to put West back on the cultural radar, at least as a source of nostalgia.

Born William West Anderson in 1928 in Walla Walla, Wash., the actor later adopted his stage name, and began his career in earnest when he moved to Hawaii in the 1950s to star in a local children’s program.

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

Adam West’s Life and Career in Photos

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  1. Rex the Wonder Dog says:

    Not only was the Batman TV show great, but he made one of the best Batman movies ever made.

  2. May Hampton says:

    R.I.P
    From late agent and manager (Fred Wostbrock’s) adopted children Amor and Zaire

  3. Enlund, val says:

    God bless you, May God hold you in the palm of his hand . You were a true hero to so many. One of the last of the good guys. Up there with Superman.My prayers are with you & your loved ones.

  4. Dean Sudberry says:

    Dear Family and Friends of Adam West,

    Hello. My name is Dean. I would like to express my condolences. I was very sorry to hear about Mr. West’s passing. I guess one is never really over losing a loved one. But I believe that there are steps one can take to make it more tolerable. I do not think that one can get to Heaven by taking one’s own life. I also do not think that one can get there unless they are Catholic.

    All you can do that first night is get a good nights sleep. The next day talk to the family. Find out when and where the funeral will be. Take a couple of days to mourn. One really should do this for three days. But you may need the third day for the funeral.

    Attend the funeral. Cry at the funeral. Attend the after – the – funeral get together. Have something to eat there. Talk to people. Feel relieved. But do nothing else that day.

    I hope that the foregoing will be of some help. Thank you for your time.

    Love,

    Dean Sudberry
    Los Angeles, California

  5. Metro Square says:

    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.

  6. Rusty Shackleford says:

    From one of the best Simpsons episodes ever, “Mr. Plow”, when Adam showed his physique to Bart, Lisa and Homer.:

    “Pure West.”

  7. bobby roundtree says:

    he was the best batman of all
    may he rest in peace

  8. emily a hodgin says:

    prayers go out to his family and will and have alway loved the batman

  9. You’re always Batman and the incredibly funny Mayor Adam West, RIP a legend. :,(

  10. XProphetess Patrice L Snell says:

    Nobidy can take his place as Batman! So much love and respect for him for all he gave us as children! There is only one Adam West aka Batman Who we all grew up to with love!

  11. T Man says:

    our hi school band played the Bat
    Man theme

  12. Chip Payne says:

    My wife assisted Adam West for years at the local Cadillac dealer in Palm Springs. He was always courteous and entertaining, stopping to answer the same questions year in and year out. It’s the end of an era, RIP Adam West

  13. ldcj says:

    He represented the best of the Hollywood culture. We went to a friend’s house to watch, because they had a color TV. Sadly, that culture has gone to sheet.

    To his great grandchildren: Adam West left a positive impression on millions of American kids who are now adults.

  14. My condolences to the family. Loved all of Mr. Wests work…especially Batman.

  15. Lynn Silton says:

    our family loved this show. It was often used as a bargaining chip. RIP Adam West.

  16. Jeff says:

    So sad. One of my childhood heroes. They have all or are or will be passing away. Sucks to get old.

  17. “Batman” was to action-comic heroics what “Get Smart” was to 007 and “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.,” and what “Airplane” was to “Airport.” But Batman blazed that trail. Adam West did not portray the Caped Crusader — he WAS the Caped Crusader, and he kept Gotham City safe. All of us who knew it, your beneficiaries, will miss you, Old Chum. RIP

  18. Bobby schelling says:

    Brings back my youth and school days, with Batman coming by home after class and, seeing this caped crusader in my living room..what a actor and good family man always seem a gentleman and great performer we will miss Mr. Adam West condolences to family…rip

  19. charles sedlacek says:

    you were the best batman, adam west..god rest your beautiful soul.

  20. Bill Tex says:

    The action. The wild and vibrant colors. The Batmobile. I used clothes-line pegs to clip on a towel and ran around the house yelling na-na-na-na-na-BATMAN!!

  21. Cathyd says:

    Was heartbroken to hear of the passing of Adam West! I grew up watching Batman and many other shows Adam was in! Unfortunately we’re losing all the GREAT actors and Adam West was one of the BEST! RIP Mr. West

  22. Jon Perrert says:

    Back in 1967 while touring Niagara Falls my five-year-old son would not put on his rain jacket to go under the falls. Adam observe this approach bent down introduced himself and buttoned up his rain jacket. My wife and I have talked about this many times a very simple jester this was Adam.

  23. Sal U. Lloyd says:

    I remember watching on our family’s black and white TV from 1966-68. Some images were disturbing (i.e. the Dynamic Duo tied to spinning reels), but overall I liked it.

  24. Jim Robinson says:

    I remember in middle school rushing home to watch Batman every week at 4:00 PM. That was the same Bat time. Adam West was the original and most authentic Batman. Rest in Peace, Hero of my youth. You will be missed by an entire generation that believed that good always conquered evil.

  25. anon@ymous.com says:

    R.I.P. Adam West (1928-2017)

    I guess he will be meeting Yvonne Craig up there now.

  26. Frank says:

    My sisters and I loved Batman. We would watch it twice a week, when it was first aired. We went to see the Batman movie at the 101 Drive-In in Ventura, CA. Our parents would have us put our pajamas on to go to the drive-in, because we would always fall asleep on the drive home. Another bit or trivia, Adam West owned the lot behind our house in Big Bear, CA. My sister used to sit in a tree in the backyard hoping to catch sight of him. She never did, but she told him the story when she saw him signing photos at the Sci-Fi Grand Slam convention in Pasadena in the early 2000’s. She said he got a kick out of it. Sorry he’s gone. We’ll miss him. Because he’s Batman!

  27. sanityisrare says:

    Wow…the memories!!! Any comment from Robin?

  28. Silly shows like Gilligans Island, Batman, Munsters, etc. so illogical and yet a guilty pleasure.

  29. Jamesben says:

    “KAPOW!” It’s a gut shot to lose Adam West…R.I.P.

  30. Doug Clinton says:

    Even Batman dies. Loved watching the show when I was a kid. TV in the 60’s was way better than the garbage on now

  31. Adam West.
    The best ever Batman.
    Those of us who grew up during the 1960s are lucky to have had TV shows where kids could be kids and life was innocent.
    Our imaginations had no limits.
    It was our generation that created home computers, laptops, cell phones and just about every other modern convenience.
    Dick Tracy’s watch became a reality because kids dreamed big and as we became adults, we turned those dreams into an amazing future where anything was possible.
    We owe a lot to stars like Adam West who let us dream about being heroes.
    RIP.

    George Vreeland Hill

    • Htos1 says:

      You’re so correct, the gadgets inspired me o be an engineer in real life. RIP, Mr.West.

    • Clark Lindsay says:

      +1, I remember a scene where Batman was showing Commissioner Gordon the “mobile” Batcomputer, in the trunk of the batmobile, with a “radio link” to the batcave’s main batcomputer!

  32. a. baca says:

    Someday we will see you again. Same Bat time Same Bat channel. RIP

  33. wishinwell says:

    Sad to hear,was a pre-teen and we thought Batman was cool though a bit corny @ times still it was popular, after Adam West found myself always comparing the new Batmans to the original-Adam West.:)

  34. Jacob says:

    I was 6 when Batman first aired, he became my and every other little boys Hero. It was a time of Heroes and innocence, what is more cherished than that?

    • sanityisrare says:

      same here…

    • Alma Lopez says:

      Agree! I was a toddler when Batman first came on the air, and according to my parents, I enjoyed watching it then! As I got a little older, I still watched the show(now in reruns)along with my younger brothers.

  35. Kings Wood says:

    He also had 4th billing on movie Robinson Crusoe on Mars..it`s one of my favourite old cheesy sci-fi`s.

  36. kolt475 says:

    only two left from the original series, ROBIN&CATWOMAN, did like that feature movie they made in 2016, using the cartoon version of commissioner Gordon and chief o’hara. including the original villains and AUNT HARRIET finally figured out who they were,.ME-TV HEROES&iCONS still show it, loved the bat cave and the original bat computer also showed up in the Jupiter 2 lost in space.

  37. I use to watch it all the time. Loved the show & actors. From the buttler, Robinn, Batman & even batgirl. Thanks for those memories. You will be missed.

  38. Ruth Arraz says:

    No começo dos anos 70 passava o seriado no Brasil, não perdia um capítulo…amava muito!!!! <3
    Meus sentimentos a família.

  39. JohnnyG says:

    RIP Adam West, thanks for years of great action packed TV!

  40. Diane says:

    I loved Bat Man he was in the 60’s the best in kid programming. He was wonderful RIP my condolences to his family.
    Wonderful time in history his little show was so great.💕💕💕💕💕💕😘

  41. fmc says:

    RIP Adam West, the greatest Batman ever. Bam! Pow!

  42. jnobfan says:

    My condolences to the family I really enjoyed (still do) the Batman show

  43. Fred Garvin says:

    RIP Adam, you were the reasoning process in every kid’s mind. BAM, BOMB, CAPOW !

  44. Randi Franck says:

    I grew up watching those old westerns and Mr. West. Watched Batman in high school in the 60s. Wonderful simple plots where good defeated evil and they taught you to respect people around you. Nothing like the garbage on today. God Bless you Mr. West .. Great Guy !!

  45. MAL says:

    Holy quandary Batman! Commissioner Gorden and Chief Ohara must be beside themselves with grief. Who will save Gotham City now? Rest in peace Batman. You kept us laughing for 3 generations.

  46. I recall when Batman came on t.v. in 1966. It was very exciting to see a cartoon hero come to life on the small screen. It was high camp and good fun and was instantly a smash hit. He will be forever enshrined in the minds of Baby Boomers of the more senior class, born in the late 40s to very early 50s, along with Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, Guy Madison, George Reeves, and all the other super heroes of the 1950s and 1960s. It was a time when good guys wore the white hats, there was no nuance to good and evil..it was plain what was what…and every episode ended when good prevailed over evil and we all went to bed believing that real life was always going to be that way. We were wrong, as things changed over night in our society, but it was a hell of a ride, the golden age to be young and alive, when everything seemed possible – and our beloved Batman, Adam West – led the way. God bless him.

  47. Another Poster says:

    In the same year, (1964), Adam West was in the movie Robinson Crusoe on Mars, Adam West was in an episode of the Outer Limits; The Invisible Enemy, where he played an astronaut on Mars where he finds out that the Martians inhabit the sands of the Red Planet like the sharks in the sea,
    Very good actor, decent human being, who lived a long life and had a large loving family.
    An Television icon who was a role model for all the children who watched Batman in syndication, long after the last original episode aired. The Lego Batman movie payed tribute to the ABC series.
    Adam West was in many ways to the 1960’s what Fess Parker, (Davy Crockett), was to the 1950’s.
    Rest in Peace Adam West!

  48. You realize your own mortality when those you admire as a kid start to pass on……

  49. Batty Man says:

    Rest In Peace, Bright Knight! Mr West was a good man who entertained millions of people who shall never forget him.

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