Born in 1928 in Washington, actor Adam West got his start in Hollywood in the late 1950s. He soon landed what became his signature role in Batman, portraying the crime-fighting superhero during the popular TV show's run from 1966 to 1968. West's career suffered a downturn as he battled typecasting issues, but he enjoyed a resurgence alongside the revival of the Batman franchise in the 1990s, and later delivered voiceover work for the animated sitcom Family Guy and the Disney feature Chicken Little. He died on June 9, 2017, at the age of 88.
Actor Adam West was born William West Anderson on September 19, 1928, in Seattle, Washington (some sources say Walla Walla). He spent his early years on his family's ranch in Walla Walla, where his father, Otto, was a wheat farmer and his mother, Audrey, a concert pianist and opera singer. When he was a teenager, West's parents divorced, and he moved with his mother and younger brother to Seattle, where he finished high school.
West continued his education at Whitman College, where he was a member of the debate team and participated in swimming, track, skiing and water polo. He graduated with a degree in English literature in 1951 and moved on to post-graduate work at Stanford and a stint in the U.S. Army, where he helped launch a series of military television stations.
In the mid-1950s, West accepted an offer from a college friend to move to Hawaii. It was there he kicked his show business career into gear as a presenter on El Kini Popo Show, alongside a chimpanzee named Peaches. While supplementing his income as an island tour guide, he caught the attention of a vacationing Hollywood producer, eventually leading to a contract with Warner Bros. Studios.
Adopting the stage name Adam West, the actor made his feature film debut with a small but memorable part in the 1959 drama The Young Philadelphians (starring Paul Newman). He enjoyed a steady stream of supporting parts in television and film over the next several years, among them a recurring role as Sergeant Steve Nelson on the hit TV series The Detectives. On the big screen, he played the straight man to the Three Stooges in the 1965 Western spoof The Outlaws is Coming, and that year he also headlined the spaghetti Western The Relentless Four.
West's big break came when he was chosen to play the crime-fighting superhero Batman in a television adaptation of the comic book. The show's producers, who sought to bring a touch of satire to the character (and his stuffier alter ego, Bruce Wayne), felt that West's flair for tongue-in-cheek comedy made him the perfect candidate for the role. Burt Ward was contracted to play Robin, completing the Dynamic Duo.
Following its debut in January 1966, the popularity of Batman swelled to a phenomenal level, making household names of West and Ward. The campy show boasted an impressive lineup of guest stars, including Cesar Romero (as the Joker), Julie Newmar (as Catwoman), Vincent Price (as Egghead) and Roddy McDowall (as Bookworm). That summer, West and Ward donned their capes for the full-length feature Batman, which pitted the heroes against an all-star cast of villains that included Frank Gorshin's Riddler, Burgess Meredith's Penguin, and Lee Meriwether's Catwoman.
Despite its initial popularity, and the introduction of Yvonne Craig's Batgirl character, escalating production costs and flagging ratings caused ABC to cancel Batman midway through its third season, in 1968.
West went on to star in such films as The Girl Who Knew Too Much (1969), but typecasting all but brought his career to a halt. Describing his post-Batman years in a later interview, he said, "I did a couple of fairly good movies, but then I could see what was happening. Every time the audience would see me come into a scene, you could hear an intake of breath and it would be like, 'There’s Batman.' "
In search of work, West was reduced to making guest appearances as Batman at county fairs and rodeos. He voiced the character for a couple of animated programs, and occasionally landed supporting parts in quality films like the action-laced comedy Hooper (1978). Otherwise, he accepted roles in forgettable features like The Happy Hooker Goes Hollywood (1980) and Zombie Nightmare (1986).
West experienced a resurgence of popularity with the release of Tim Burton's blockbuster Batman (1989), featuring Michael Keaton in the title role, and the numerous sequels that followed. He enjoyed a steady stream of voiceover work, most notably with the recurring character of Mayor West on the animated sitcom Family Guy, and was part of the ensemble for the hit Disney feature Chicken Little (2005).
Additionally, the veteran actor surfaced on such popular programs as The Drew Carey Show, The King of Queens, 30 Rock and The Big Bang Theory. He also teamed up with old colleagues Burt Ward and Julie Newmar for the animated Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders, which enjoyed favorable reviews upon its 2016 release.
In 1950, West married college girlfriend Billie Lou Yeager. The couple divorced in 1956. The following year, he wed a Tahitian dancer, Nga Frisbie Dawson, fathering two children before their separation in 1962. In 1970, he married Marcelle Lear, with whom he had two more children.
Along with authoring an autobiography, Back to the Batcave, the actor displayed several of his paintings and sketches at exhibitions. In 2012, he received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
West died on June 9, 2017, after "a short but brave battle with leukemia," according to a statement from his family. He was 88.
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