Adam West, Caped Crusader, Dies

The actor felt typecast by his iconic portrayal of Batman, but he later grew to embrace the role.

Mark Elias / Reuters

Actor Adam West, whose portrayal in the 1960s of a lighter-version of Batman, a caped-crusader in tights, campy  in the right ways with its “Wham” and “Pow” illustrations that popped into fight scenes, died on Saturday. He was 88.

Family members said West died of 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,” West’s family said in a statement.

West’s depiction of Batman was iconic. It brought him to the top of pop culture in the 1960s, but it would also hold his acting career back for decades. He was born William West Anderson in Walla Wall, Washington, where he graduated from a small liberal arts school. After serving in the Army, West moved to Hollywood. There he appeared in TV shows like the popular western Bonanza. But it was his role as a James Bond-esque figure in a Nestle Quik commercial that brought him to the attention Batman’s producer.

West was asked to do the show, which he viewed as “one of absurdity and tongue in cheek to the point that I found it irresistible,” he told The Hollywood Reporter. “You can’t play Batman in a serious, square-jawed, straight-ahead way without giving the audience the sense that there’s something behind that mask waiting to get out, that he’s a little crazed, he’s strange.”

The show’s famous tag line at the end, “Same Bat-time! Same Bat-channel!” was just one of its many quirks. West’s co-star, Robin, the Boy Wonder, was played by Burt Ward, who West handpicked despite having no acting experience. The show was over-the-top with its catchphrases—“Holy guacamole, Batman!” or “Holy Batrap, Batman!”It was a much different take on the current-day versions of batman, with West battling  the henchmen of the Penguin or the Joker to zany illustrations that popped onto screen: Kapow! Zlonk! Wham! But ultimately the show was canceled in 1968 after its third season. For decades after, West struggled to find more gigs, and felt he was victim to typecast.  He’d made his debut in The Young Philadelphians, which starred Paul Newman in 1959. And he’d go on to play in dozens of films and TV shows, including comedies, sitcoms, westerns, but he could never escape the role of Batman, he even grew to resent the role.

In an interview with Variety, West told the magazine the character had come to represent “money,” saying that “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 onto 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.”

In more recent years, as he embraced his past character, West appeared in TV shows like The Simpsons, The Big Bang Theory, and he held a regular role as the voice of Quahog’s Mayor Adam West in Family Guy.

Typically he played himself, or a fictionalized version of himself, someone who could not get out from the shadow of a character he’d ingrained so permanently in the minds of viewers. In April 2012, West received a star on the Hollywood walk of Fame.