Adam West, the deadpan Batman at the center of a beloved TV show known for its sly quips and high camp, has died of leukemia at age 88.
West’s role as the legendary Caped Crusader, spanning only three years, was the high point of his career. But for better or worse, he embraced the legacy.
The son of a farmer and an opera singer, raised in the northwestern U.S. state of Washington, West’s appeal was a mixture of wholesomeness and dark humor. One of his first roles was as a sidekick on a children’s show called El Kini Popo. One of his co-stars was a chimp.
His clean-cut good looks and deep voice netted him a number of “manly man” roles in film and television in the 1960s — Westerns, crime shows and science fiction. He even appeared in a comedy Western starring the Three Stooges.
But it was superhero territory where West found his fame. Playing Bruce Wayne, a rich playboy with a dark, justice-seeking alter ego, West and co-star Burt Ward imparted weekly lessons to teens and tweens about wearing seat belts, eating healthfully and doing homework — all while defending Batman’s hometown, Gotham City, from a variety of colorful villains.
The show delved wholeheartedly into comic book culture, punctuating fight scenes with music stingers and comic-book-style pop-ups: “Zap!” “Bam!” “Zowie!”
The show also mimicked Batman comics by naming objects and ideas with the prefix “bat,” to absurd effect. Show episodes ended with: “Tune in tomorrow! Same Bat-time, same Bat-channel!”
Life after Batman
After Batman ended in 1968 — leaving 120 episodes that ran in syndication for years afterward — West struggled to free himself from the iconic character. He found small roles in film and television, but never a role that brought him a comparable amount of fame as that of the bat-winged superhero.
In his later years, West did voice work and cameos on Batman-themed shows and made regular appearances at comic book conventions, where the self-mocking wit he displayed in his most famous role continued to win him friends and admirers. He made a number of cameos in sitcoms and even spoofed himself, playing a washed-up actor in one TV show and a washed-up superhero in another.
West was married three times and had six children. Announcing his death Saturday, his family said: “Our dad always saw himself as the Bright Knight, and aspired to make a positive impact on his fans’ lives. He was and will always be our hero.”