William West Anderson (September 19, 1928 – June 9, 2017), known professionally as Adam West, was an American actor widely known for his role as Batman in the 1960s ABC series of the same name, its 1966 theatrical feature film and two animated feature films Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders (2016) and Batman vs. Two-Face (2017) (The second one being his final work and released posthumously). His career spanned 63 years.
West began acting in films in the 1950s. He played opposite Chuck Connors in Geronimo (1962) and The Three Stooges in The Outlaws Is Coming (1965). He also appeared in the science fiction film Robinson Crusoe on Mars (1964) and performed voice work on The Fairly OddParents (2003–2008), The Simpsons (1992, 2002) and Family Guy (2000–2017), playing fictional versions of himself in all three.
Adam West was born William West Anderson on September 19, 1928, in Walla Walla, Washington. His father, Otto Anderson (1903–1984) was a farmer; and his mother, Audrey Volenne (née) Speer; 1906–1969) was an opera singer and concert pianist who was forced to abandon her own Hollywood dreams to care for her family. Following her example, West stated to his father as a youth that he intended to go to Hollywood after his completion of school. He moved to Seattle with his mother when he was 15, following his parents’ divorce.
West attended Walla Walla High School during his freshman and sophomore years, and later enrolled in Lakeside School in Seattle. He attended Whitman University but studied at University of Puget Sound the fall semester of 1949. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in literature and a minor in psychology from Whitman College in Walla Walla, where he was a member of the Gamma Zeta Chapter of the Beta Theta Pi fraternity. He also participated on the speech and debate team. Drafted into the United States Army, he served as an announcer on American Forces Network television. After his discharge, he worked as a milkman before moving to Hawaii to pursue a career in television.
While in Hawaii, West was picked for a role as the sidekick on a children’s show called El Kini Popo Show, which featured a chimp. West later took over as star of the show. In 1959, West moved with his wife and two children to Hollywood, where he took the stage name Adam West.
He appeared in the film The Young Philadelphians which starred Paul Newman. He had guest-star roles in a number of television Westerns. On three Warner Bros. westerns which aired on ABC—Sugarfoot, Colt .45, and Lawman—West played the role of Doc Holliday, the frontier dentist and gunfighter. He portrayed Wild Bill Hickok in the episode “Westbound Stage” of the 1960 NBC Western series Overland Trail, with William Bendix and Doug McClure.
He guest-starred on Edmond O’Brien’s syndicated crime drama Johnny Midnight, and soon snagged a supporting role as police sergeant Steve Nelson in the crime drama, The Detectives Starring Robert Taylor.
On January 10, 1961, West appeared as a young, ambitious deputy who foolishly confronts a gunfighter named Clay Jackson, portrayed by Jock Mahoney, in the episode “The Man from Kansas” of the NBC Western series Laramie.
West made two guest appearances on Perry Mason in 1961 and 1962. His first role was as small-town journalist Dan Southern in “The Case of the Barefaced Witness”. His other role was as folk singer Pete Norland in “The Case of the Bogus Books”.
West starred in an episode of the ABC Outer Limits series titled “The Invisible Enemy”. He made a brief appearance in the film Soldier in the Rain starring Jackie Gleason and Steve McQueen, and starred as Major Dan McCready, the ill-fated mission commander of Mars Gravity Probe 1 in the 1964 film Robinson Crusoe on Mars In 1965, he was cast in the comedy Western The Outlaws Is Coming, the last feature film starring The Three Stooges. He played Christopher Rolf in the episode “Stopover” of ABC’s The Rifleman, which aired on April 25, 1961.
Producer William Dozier cast West as Bruce Wayne and his alter ego, Batman, in the television series Batman, in part after seeing West perform as the James Bond-like spy Captain Q in a Nestlé Quik commercial. He was in competition with Lyle Waggoner for the Batman role.
The popular campy show ran on ABC from 1966 to 1968; a feature-length film version directed by Leslie H. Martinson was released in 1966.
In his Batman character, West appeared in a public service announcement in which he encouraged schoolchildren to heed then-President Lyndon B. Johnson’s call for them to buy U.S. savings stamps, a children’s version of U.S. savings bonds, to support the Vietnam War.
In 1970, West was considered for the role of James Bond by producer Albert Broccoli for the film Diamonds Are Forever.
After his high-profile role, West, along with Burt Ward and Yvonne Craig (who played crime-fighting sidekicks Robin and Batgirl), was severely typecast. West’s first post-Caped Crusader role was in the film The Girl Who Knew Too Much (1969). His lead performance against type as cynical tough guy Johnny Cain did not erode his Batman image; the movie was a box office disappointment.
For a time, West made a living from personal appearances as Batman. In 1974, when Ward and Craig reprised their Batman roles for a TV public-service announcement about equal pay for women, West was absent. Instead, Dick Gautier filled in as Batman. One of West’s more memorable Batman appearances, after the series had ended, was with the Memphis-based United States Wrestling Association, where he engaged in a war of words with Jerry “The King” Lawler while wearing the cowl and a tracksuit, and even name-dropping Spider-Man.
West subsequently appeared in the theatrical films The Marriage of a Young Stockbrocker (1971), The Curse of the Moon Child (1972), The Specialist (1975), Hooper (as himself; 1978), The Happy Hooker Goes Hollywood (1980), One Dark Night (1983) and Young Lady Chatterley II (1985). West also appeared in such television films as The Eyes of Charles Sand (1972), Poor Devil (1973), Nevada Smith (1975), For the Love of It (1980) and I Take These Men (1983).
West split his time between residences in Palm Springs, California and Ketchum, Idaho.
He did guest shots on the television series; Maverick, Diagnosis: Murder, Love, American Style, Bonanza, The Big Valley, Night Gallery, Alias Smith and Jones, Mannix, Emergency!, Alice, Police Woman, Operation Petticoat, The American Girls, Vega$, Big Shamus, Little Shamus, Laverne & Shirley, Bewitched, Fantasy Island, The Love Boat, Hart to Hart, Zorro, The King of Queens, and George Lopez. West was also in an episode of Bonanza that supposedly never aired until reruns were shown and he made several guest appearances as himself on Family Feud. In 1986, he starred in the comedy police series titled The Last Precinct.
Return to Batman
West often reprised his role as Batman/Bruce Wayne, first in the short-lived animated series The New Adventures of Batman, and in other shows such as The Batman/Tarzan Adventure Hour, Tarzan and the Super 7, Super Friends: The Legendary Super Powers Show, and The Super Powers Team: Galactic Guardians (succeeding Olan Soule in the role). In 1979, West once again donned the Batsuit for the live-action TV special Legends of the Superheroes. In 1985, DC Comics named West as one of the honorees in the company’s 50th-anniversary publication Fifty Who Made DC Great for his work on the Batman series.
West was considered to play Thomas Wayne, Bruce Wayne’s father, in Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman film. Originally, he wanted to play Batman. West never appeared in any of the theatrically released post-1960s Batman franchise motion pictures and, to date, neither has Burt Ward (Robin, from the TV series). West made an appearance in a 1992 episode of Batman: The Animated Series on Fox, but not as Batman (as the role of Batman was already being played by Kevin Conroy). Instead, he portrayed Simon Trent, a washed-up actor who used to play a superhero in a TV series called The Gray Ghost and who now has difficulty finding work. West later had a recurring role as the voice of Mayor Grange in the WB animated series The Batman.
The actor vocally reprised his role as Batman for the CGI-animated short film Batman: New Times. He co-starred with Mark Hamill, who vocally portrayed The Joker and had originally played the role on Batman: The Animated Series. West also voiced Thomas Wayne in an episode of the cartoon series Batman: The Brave and the Bold.
During the 1990s, West’s status as a pop culture icon led to appearances as himself in the film Drop Dead Gorgeous and in several TV series, including NewsRadio, Murphy Brown, The Adventures of Pete & Pete, The Ben Stiller Show, and The Drew Carey Show. He notably appeared as “Dr. Wayne” in the 1990 Zorro episode “The Wizard”, even being shown Zorro’s “secret cave” headquarters. In 1991, he starred in the pilot episode of Lookwell, in which he portrayed a has-been TV action hero who falsely believes he can solve mysteries in real life. The pilot, written by Conan O’Brien and Robert Smigel in their pre-Late Night period, aired on NBC that summer, but was not picked up as a series. It was later broadcast on the Trio channel, under the “Brilliant But Cancelled” block. In 1994, West played a non-comedic role as the father of Peter Weller’s character in the Michael Tolkin film The New Age.
He played a washed-up superhero in the Goosebumps television series episode “Attack of the Mutant”. The boy hero is a comic book geek whose favorite superhero, Galloping Gazelle (West’s character), is portrayed as fading and on the verge of retirement. Towards the end, the boy is shocked to learn that the Gazelle is real, though he (the boy) must save the day by himself.
In 1994, West, with Jeff Rovin, wrote his autobiography, Back to the Batcave published by Berkeley Books. In 1996, Virgin Interactive released the gambling simulation game Golden Nugget on PlayStation. West acted in the video cut scenes of the “Chaos Mystery” storyline subgame. In 2001, he played the super-villain Breathtaker on the short-lived television series Black Scorpion.
In 2003, West and Burt Ward starred in the television movie Return to the Batcave: The Misadventures of Adam and Burt, alongside Frank Gorshin, Julie Newmar, and Lee Meriwether. Jack Brewer portrayed West in flashbacks to the production of Batman. In 2005, West appeared in the CBS show The King of Queens. In the episode, Spence first asks Lou Ferrigno to go to a sci-fi convention, but when Spence meets West (playing himself), he leaves Ferrigno and asks West to come with him. He appears prominently in the 2006 video for California band STEFY’s song “Chelsea” as “Judge Adam West”, presiding over the courtroom scene.
In 2007, West played an attorney for Benny on the show George Lopez, and he starred as “The Boss” in the movie comedy Sexina: Popstar PI. Following the release of a Batman game, a host of the show X-Play visited West on the show. In 2009, West played himself in the episode “Apollo, Apollo” of 30 Rock.
In 2010, a Golden Palm Star on the Palm Springs Walk of Stars was dedicated to him. West received the 2,468th star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on April 5, 2012. His star is located at 6764 Hollywood Boulevard in front of the Guinness Museum in Hollywood, California.
West appeared in a number of videos for Funnyordie.com.
He was interviewed in 2013 on the PBS series called Pioneers of Television in the season-three episode called “Superheroes”. Also in 2013, he was the subject of the documentary Starring Adam West.
West is among the interview subjects in Superheroes: A Never-Ending Battle, a three-hour documentary narrated by Liev Schreiber that premiered on PBS in October 2013.
In February 2016, West guest-starred as himself on the 200th episode of The Big Bang Theory.
Voice-over work and advertising
Having a distinctive voice, West built a career doing voice-over work on a number of animated series (often as himself), including appearances on The Simpsons, Futurama, Rugrats, Histeria!, Kim Possible, and Johnny Bravo.
He also appeared in many episodes of Nickelodeon’s cartoon The Fairly OddParents as a cat-obsessed version of himself, who is famous for playing a superhero called Catman, and who actually believes he is Catman. His later appearance in The Fairly OddParents was a parody of himself, hired to play the role of the Crimson Chin in the movie of the same name. Yet another appearance on the show had him as himself in a fairy-sponsored video about how to cope with losing one’s fairy godparents. In later seasons, the role for this version of Adam West was recast to Jeff Bennett.
In 1997, West appeared in a national television advertising campaign for Ziebart.
From 2000, West made regular appearances on the animated series Family Guy, on which he played Mayor Adam West, the lunatic mayor of Quahog, Rhode Island. His role brought West a new wave of popularity post-Batman, and lead writer Seth MacFarlane claims to have gone out of his way to avoid typecasting West by deliberately not making any references to Batman.
Some of his last voice-over performances were playing the role of Uncle Art in the Disney Animation film Meet the Robinsons, and voicing the young Mermaid Man (along with Burt Ward, who voiced the young Barnacle Boy) in the cartoon show SpongeBob SquarePants, in the episode “Back to the Past” of 2010.
West also played the voice of General Carrington in the video game XIII, and voiced other video games such as Marc Eckō’s Getting Up: Contents Under Pressure, Chicken Little: Ace in Action, Scooby-Doo! Unmasked, and Goosebumps: Attack of the Mutant.
In November 2014, West voiced himself, and the 1960s version of Batman, in the video game Lego Batman 3: Beyond Gotham.
West also did voice-over work for superhero-themed commercials for the investment firm LendingTree and television commercials for Hebrew National hot dogs.
West was married three times. His first marriage was to his college girlfriend Billie Lou Yeager in 1950. The couple divorced six years later. In 1957 he married Tahitian dancer Ngahra Frisbie Dawson with whom he had two children before their divorce in 1962. West then married Marcelle Tagand Lear in November 1970. They had two children and remained together for more than 46 years, until Adam’s death. West also had two step-children.
During the Batman television series, West’s relationship with co-star Burt Ward was described as “problematic”. He said, “Burt fell victim to making up stories to sell books. But in a way it was flattering, because he made me sound like King Kong.” West also said that he played Batman “for laughs, but in order to do , one had to never think it was funny. You just had to pull on that cowl and believe that no one would recognize you.” Also during the Batman series, he became close friends with crossover co-star Van Williams, who played The Green Hornet. The two of them were also neighbors for a while and spent much time together outdoors, including fishing and hunting, a common hobby of Williams.
West died in Los Angeles, California on June 9, 2017, following a brief battle with leukemia. He was 88. After his death, West’s former Batman co-star and longtime friend, Burt Ward, released a statement; “This is a terribly unexpected loss of my lifelong friend, I will forever miss him. There are several fine actors who have portrayed Batman in films. In my eyes, there was only one real Batman that is and always will be Adam West. He was truly the Bright Knight.” Batman: The Animated Series actor Kevin Conroy (who performed along West in the episode “Beware the Gray Ghost”) said “Adam West was an incredibly good, generous actor. Loved working with him as Gray Ghost. A true gentleman”.
On June 15, 2017, Los Angeles projected the Bat-Signal on City Hall as a tribute to West, and Walla Walla shone the bat-signal on the Whitman Tower.
West pre-recorded five more episodes as Mayor Adam West that will be released posthumously as part of Family Guy’s sixteenth season. He also recorded the 11th episode of Powerless, which never aired due to the show’s cancellation. NBC aired the episode online after West’s death.
West’s last public appearances were from March-April 2017 at the SouthCoast Comic Con & Collectibles Extravaganza in Hanover, Massachusetts, where he was the guest of honor, Fan Expo Dallas, and the second annual Silicon Valley Comic Con.
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