Adam West, Batman Of The 1960s, Dies At 88, After Short Battle With Leukemia

Jun 10, 2017
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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Adam West, the actor best known as Batman in the 1966 film and TV series, has died. NPR TV critic Eric Deggans says West became a pop culture icon and played off his typecasting in later roles.

(SOUNDBITE OF NEAL HEFTI'S SONG, "BATMAN THEME")

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing) Batman.

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: Adam West's turn as the straight-arrow, super earnest, caped crusader was an instant hit on television in the mid-1960s.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "BATMAN")

ADAM WEST: (As Bruce Wayne/Batman) When dealing with powerful criminal elements, one can never be too well-prepared. Let's go.

DEGGANS: In an interview for the Archive of American Television, West explained one important key to playing the character.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

WEST: Batman could never be subtle, and he - my Batman at least, I don't know, must always believe that nobody could recognize him even though his voice was the same and so on.

DEGGANS: Bursting onto TV screens in gray tights, a dark cowl and yellow utility belt, Batman was a living comic book. West played him without a hint of irony.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

WEST: When you're playing Batman, it's like you can get away with anything because Batman is such an innocent.

DEGGANS: West earned early fame acting in TV Westerns. He was cast as Batman after appearing in a Nestle's Quik commercial as an Americanized version of James Bond. The "Batman" TV show aired from 1966 to 1968 and a feature-length movie was released in 1966. West admitted the role, which made him a pop culture icon, also left him struggling with typecasting for years after the series ended. But West eventually appeared in nearly 50 films and more TV shows. He developed a career as a voice actor, often playing roles that spoofed his Batman-Bruce-Wayne persona, including playing a mayor named Adam West on the Fox TV show "Family Guy."

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

WEST: (Singing) Adam West, Adam West.

A little bit softer now.

(Singing) Adam West, Adam West.

DEGGANS: In his interview with the Archive of American Television, West says he made his peace with the shadow that Batman cast over his career.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

WEST: My attitude now is how many actors get the chance to create a signature role, something that will go on after, you know, they're gone? It's a wonderful thing.

DEGGANS: West died Friday night after a short battle with leukemia. He was 88. Eric Deggans, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF NEAL HEFTI'S SONG, "BATMAN THEME")

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing) Batman. Batman. Batman. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.