Obituary

Adam West took Batman seriously

Adam West, who earned a place in American pop culture history with his campy portrayal of Batman in the classic 1960s TV series, has died at age 88, his family said.VIDEO: REUTERS
Adam West, who earned a place in American pop culture history with his campy portrayal of Batman in the classic 1960s TV series, has died at age 88, his family said.VIDEO: REUTERS
Adam West as the Caped Crusader in Batman: The Movie (1966).
Adam West as the Caped Crusader in Batman: The Movie (1966).PHOTO: TWENTIETH CENTURY FOX
Adam West.
Adam West.

WASHINGTON • Michael Keaton, Ben Affleck, Val Kilmer, George Clooney and Christian Bale have all taken on the role of superhero Batman, but no one was as closely identified with the character as Adam West.

West, who died last Friday at 88, portrayed the Caped Crusader in a wildly popular television show (Batman, 1966-1968) and seemed trapped in the character's cape and tights for the rest of his career."I decided early on to embrace the character," he told The Guardian newspaper in 2014. "I mean, how many actors are lucky enough to play a character that becomes iconic?"

It is hard to overestimate Batman's popularity among young baby boomers in the late 1960s. It was a vivid blast of colour and sound, as TV emerged from its dour black-and-white beginnings.

The theme song by Neal Hefti opened the show, as the Dynamic Duo - introduced in comic books in 1939 - came to life on the small screen. West played a dapper millionaire, Bruce Wayne, who adopted his alter ego as Batman whenever crime threatened Gotham City.

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Through a secret passageway in "stately Wayne Manor", he entered the Batcave and emerged in his mask and cape as Batman, speeding towards trouble in his Batmobile.

His young sidekick Robin, played by Burt Ward, was in the passenger seat, forever pronouncing everything "holy", as in "Holy hieroglyphics!" or "Holy nick of time!"

In its first two seasons, Batman aired two nights a week, with 120 episodes produced during its three-year run. At the end of each episode, viewers were invited to tune in again, "same Bat time, same Bat channel".

The show was always a bit goofy, with its masked heroes, stilted dialogue and staged fistfights, accompanied by comic-book lettering spelling out each blow.

Batman was a comedy, but its central character never cracked a smile, even as the Joker and the Riddler laughed maniacally in his face.

West, who had a degree in English literature, seemed to be a Shakespearean actor who had wandered into a slapstick routine. "I think one or two of the regulars in the cast thought I was a little conceited, in that I would tell them, 'I want you please to make this moment, this scene, the best of your life, because this show will be lasting'," West told The Washington Post in 2014. "I just wanted it to be great."

He starred in a Batman feature film in 1966 and acquired a reputation as a ladies' man. He once accompanied voluptuous actress Sophia Loren to the Vatican. "When you go to the Sistine Chapel with Sophia Loren, it can be quite some time before your thoughts turn to the ceiling," he said in 2005.

Then, almost as quickly as Batman soared to fame, it was over.

West made appearances and public service announcements dressed as Batman. He took on frequent roles, often as a voice-over actor, playing himself or some version of the Batman character. Beginning in 2000, with his tongue firmly in cheek, he played a corrupt mayor named Adam West in the animated series Family Guy (1999 to present).

William West Anderson was born on Sept 19, 1928, in Walla Walla, Washington. His father was a farmer and his mother had theatrical ambitions.

His marriages to Ms Billie Lou Yeager and Ms Ngahra Frisbie ended in divorce.

Survivors include his wife of 46 years, the former Marcelle Lear; two children from his second marriage; and four children from his third marriage.

WASHINGTON POST

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 12, 2017, with the headline 'Adam West took Batman seriously'. Print Edition | Subscribe