Obituaries

Adam West, 88, noted for playing Batman

NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 06: Actor Adam West attends the Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders Press Room at New York Comic-Con - Day 1 at Jacob Javits Center on October 6, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Mike Coppola/Getty Images)

Mike Coppola/Getty Images

Adam West in October 2016.

Adam West, the classically handsome baritone actor who turned a comic-book superhero into live-action Pop Art in the 1960s television series “Batman,” died Friday in Los Angeles. He was 88.

The cause was leukemia, according to Molly Schoneveld, a spokeswoman, who confirmed the death.

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“Batman” lasted only 2 ½ seasons, from January 1966 to March 1968. But the show was such a phenomenon that Mr. West appeared in costume on the cover of Life magazine, the highest tribute to national popularity at the time.

The show’s off-kilter camera angles and superimposed dialogue balloons representing fight-scene sound effects like “pow!” and “splat!” were among the elements that led it to be viewed as high camp. Mr. West dismissed that label but proudly described the show as farce.

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Batman, the crime-fighting alias of Bruce Wayne, a bachelor millionaire in Gotham City, was created as a comic-book character in 1939 by Bob Kane and Bill Finger. (He was soon joined by a young sidekick, Robin the Boy Wonder.) Mr. West’s television version was painfully clean-cut, a milk-drinking model citizen whose reaction to extreme frustration might be, “He’s right, darn it!”

Two episodes were broadcast each week for most of the show’s run and featured a number of celebrity guest stars. In addition to well-known villains like the Penguin, played by Burgess Meredith, and the Joker, played by Cesar Romero, visiting stars included Zsa Zsa Gabor, Milton Berle, and Liberace.

The review of the first episode in The New York Times was qualified, declaring the show “amusing in spots.” Mr. West, it said, had “the jaw, height and sternness for the part.”

Warner Home Video

Adam West and Burt Ward from the 1960's TV series Batman.

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William West Anderson was born on Sept. 19, 1928, in Walla Walla, Wash., the son of Otto West Anderson, a farmer, and the former Audrey Speer. He moved to Seattle after his parents divorced and his mother remarried.

He graduated from Whitman College in Walla Walla and briefly did graduate work at Stanford University. During his two years in the Army, he worked in radio and helped create military television stations.

His television career really began when a friend suggested he move to Hawaii to work with him on “The Kini Popo Show,” a live daily variety show. The co-star was a chimpanzee.

In Hawaii he was cast in his first film, “Voodoo Island” (1957), a zombie-laden horror movie starring Boris Karloff; by 1959 he had been called to Hollywood for a screen test.

Before “Batman” came along, Mr. West kept busy with guest roles on television series, including “Perry Mason,” “77 Sunset Strip,” and just about every Western on television, including “Maverick,” “Bonanza,” and “Gunsmoke.” He also appeared in close to a dozen feature films, among them “The Young Philadelphians” (1959), “Tammy and the Doctor” (1963), and “Robinson Crusoe on Mars” (1964).

After “Batman” ended, Mr. West struggled to find meaningful acting jobs because he was so closely identified with his superhero role, but he continued to work in both movies and TV, often playing roles that spoofed his Batman character. In later decades, he did a great deal of voice work, including a spectacularly long run (2000-2017) on the animated series “Family Guy” as Mayor Adam West, a politician who might best be described as sadistic, corrupt, vacant, clueless, and utterly charming.

He appeared in a 2011 segment on the website Funny or Die called “Adam West Hits on You . . . Hard.” And last year he guest-starred on the sitcom “The Big Bang Theory” as himself, hired to appear at a private birthday party where things go wrong (“I still get paid, don’t I?”).

Mr. West married three times and divorced twice. In 1950, in his senior year of college, he married Billie Lou Yeager. They divorced six years later. He married Ngahra Frisbie in the mid-1950s, and their marriage lasted about a decade. In 1971 he married Marcelle Tagand Lear, whom he leaves along with their two children, Nina and Perrin West. He also leaves two children from his second marriage, Jonelle and Hunter Anderson; two stepchildren; five grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.

The popularity of the “Batman” series was international, and fans had long memories. In 2005, Mr. West was interviewed for an article in The Independent of London.

At 76, almost 40 years after the end of the TV show, West said: “What I loved about Batman was his total lack of awareness when it came to his interaction with the outside world.

“He actually believed nobody would recognize him on the phone when he was Bruce Wayne, even though he made no attempt to disguise his voice.”

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