This morning we all woke to the news that Adam West passed away at the age of 88, after a short battle with leukemia. He died at home, surrounded by family. They released a statement:
“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.”
No doubt tens of thousands of fans echo that sentiment. Though a versatile actor, it was West’s role as Batman in the iconic television series that defined him for generations. Initially, that somewhat stymied his career, though he returned to play Batman in Legends of the Superheroes, a Batman animated series (with Burt Ward), and Super-Friends. Last year he and Ward starred in the animated Return of the Caped Crusaders, and had finished voice work for a sequel due later this year, that will co-star William Shatner as Two-Face. When asked by Variety what Batman meant to him, West answered:
“Money. 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 on to 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.”
The love was strong, and as happened for many iconic actors, it took the first generation of fans to grow up and start casting him in their projects to break his original typecasting. West, born William West Anderson in Walla Walla, Washington, voiced the Grey Ghost in Batman: The Animated Series, Marion Grange on The Batman, and both Thomas Wayne and Proto Bat-Bot in episodes of Batman: The Brave and the Bold.
In 1992, Conan O’Brien and Rob Smigel cast West in their comedy pilot Lookwell, often hailed as a great “should have been” series in which West played a TV detective who thought he could solve crimes in real life.
And of course, since 2000, West played the animated Mayor of Quahog, Mayor Adam West, on Family Guy, because Seth McFarlane, like so many in the industry, was a fan.
The only thing about Batman that West didn’t like was the dark turn that the character was given from Tim Burton’s first film onward. And though obviously many of the comics reflected that, West felt that Batman should be, as his family said in their statement, “a shining knight,” not a Dark Knight. Part of that attitude may have stemmed from a consistent desire to return to the role (and the spotlight) in live-action, but whenever he spoke of children treating him like “Uncle Batman,” it was hard not to think he had a point.
The current Batman, Ben Affleck, released a statement via Twitter, that proves that he, too, was a fan:
Adam West exemplified heroism. Kind, funny and an all around great guy. Thank you for showing us all how it’s done.
DC Comics offered this tribute today:
The DC family is deeply saddened by the passing of Adam West, a Batman beloved by generations. Our thoughts are with his loved ones. pic.twitter.com/deI9n397aS
— DC (@DCComics) June 10, 2017
I met him three times — once just randomly at a booth at Wonder Con, and twice at Comic-Con. After a round table interview, we spoke briefly about both our hopes that the rights to the TV show would be settled so that it could be released on home video. He got a little misty-eyed and said, “I don’t think we’ll see it in my lifetime.” When Warner Brothers and 20th Century Fox settled and ultimately released the series a couple of years ago, I was glad that he had lived to see it, and enjoyed the new wave of fans it brought him.
I’m also glad that he did embrace the role, and the iconic status it brought him. Though he passed at age 88, he remains eternally young, and eternally Batman. As the internet meme goes, be yourself, unless you can be Batman, then always be Batman. Adam West got to be both.