AKA William West Anderson
Birthplace: Walla Walla, WA
Location of death: Los Angeles, CA
Cause of death: Cancer - Leukemia
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Batman
Military service: US Army (drafted)
Adam West was raised on his family's farm, and as a boy he liked Batman comics. As a young man he served a stint in the Army, then worked at odd jobs until his resonant voice got him work as a radio disk jockey. Living in Hawaii, West eventually found work as the sidekick and eventual star of The Kini-Popo Show, a local children's show co-starring a chimp.
West came to Hollywood in the late 1950s, where he had a career high point in 1959, with a supporting role in The Young Philadelphians with Paul Newman. More often, though, West worked in TV westerns like Bonanza with Lorne Greene, Maverick with James Garner, and The Rifleman with Chuck Connors, and such low-budget films as Voodoo Island with Boris Karloff, and The Outlaws Is Coming with the Three Stooges.
In 1961, West joined the cast of The Detectives, a police drama with a different 'star' detective each week -- (ambiguous link, Robert Taylor) one week, Mark Goddard the next week, then it was West's turn to star -- but his turn did not last long, as the ratings were poor and the show was quickly cancelled. West starred in a 1964 episode of The Outer Limits as an astronaut on Mars, plagued by cheesy plastic monsters under the sand, and he was featured in Robinson Crusoe on Mars, which, despite the tawdry title, was actually a solid piece of sci fi cinema.
Still, West was nearly an unknown when he was cast as Batman, beating out Lyle Waggoner for the part. The program's producers thought Waggoner was a bit more handsome, but the role went to West on the strength of an amusing TV commercial he had made for Nestle's Quik chocolate mix, playing a comical spy in a deadpan manner that would prove perfect for Batman. The series was a smash hit, airing twice weekly in prime time, with West as the millionaire playboy Bruce Wayne who secretly patrolled Gotham as the heroic Batman, with Burt Ward as Wayne's young protégé Dick Grayson, who changed clothes to become Batman's crimefighting sidekick, Robin.
Those who take the 'Batman' myth seriously sneer at the campy TV series, but the characters did, after all, come from a comic book aimed at pre-teen boys. The series was cleverly written to appeal both to kids looking for a hero and adults looking for a laugh, and no matter how outlandish the situation, West's Batman always played it straight and stoic. The theme song was a pop hit single, and the show was a trailblazer in cross-marketing, with everything from Batman lunch pails to Batman board games. It even spawned a 1966 theatrical film starring West and Ward, with a swinging '60s soundtrack. In West's memoirs, Back to the Batcave, he wrote that Julie Newmar's performance as Catwoman had "caused curious stirrings in my utility belt."
When the series ended, West had difficulty overcoming typecasting, and for several years he earned most of his income with personal appearances at shopping mall openings and comic book conventions. He has had very few 'serious' roles since Batman, among them Richard Benjamin's father-in-law in The Marriage of a Young Stockbroker, the leader of the cult in Doin' Time on Planet Earth with Roddy McDowall, and a lecherous gay financier in Baadasssss with Mario Van Peebles.
Perhaps because he is so thoroughly identified as Batman, West's voice seems to simultaneously convey both "dead serious" and "just kidding," and he gets plenty of voice work, including the 2005 film Chicken Little, and assorted projects from Scooby-Doo to Shazam. He reprised the voice of Batman in the mid-1970s cartoon The New Adventures of Batman, in video games, on The Simpsons, and in the mid-1980s cartoons SuperFriends and The Super Powers Team: Galactic Guardians (with Casey Kasem as Robin).
In one episode of the mid-1990s animated Batman, West voiced a washed-up actor who once played a superhero and was typecast for life. In a mid 2000s cartoon of The Batman, West voiced the Mayor of Gotham City. Adam West is also the mayor of Quahog, the fictional city where the Family Guy cartoon takes place, but that show's creator, Seth MacFarlane, has stated that Quahog's Mayor West is not the actor Adam West -- he is just an inept politician who happens to share the same name. Of course, then, it makes perfect sense that the actor West provides Mayor West's voice.
Beyond voice work, West donned his cape and cowl again for a corny 1979 TV special, Legends of the Superheroes, with Ward as Robin and a gaggle of old-time heroes coming out of retirement for one last mission, and in a bizarre sequel to Legends called The Roast, wherein the superhero fraternity gave Batman a Friars Club-style roast. West and Ward returned yet again in a comedic 2003 behind-the-scenes TV movie, Return to the Batcave: The Misadventures of Adam and Burt, wherein the actors discovered a diabolical plot to steal the original batmobile from a charity auction.
Despite the typecasting, West still finds the character of Batman genuinely interesting, and says one of his most treasured possessions is a drawing of the caped crusader signed by Batman's creator, Bob Kane, who thanked West for "breathing life into my pen and ink creation." West politely lobbied for the title role in Tim Burton's must more serious 1989 retelling of the tale, but the part went instead to Michael Keaton.
Father: Otto West Anderson (b. 1903)
Mother: Audrey Speer (b. 1906, d. 1969)
Brother: John Anderson
Father: Paul Flothow (stepfather, doctor)
Wife: Billie Lou Yeager (b. 1933, m. 1950, div. 1956, married her when she was 17)
Wife: Nghara Frisbie (dancer, m. 1957, div. 1962, one daughter, one son)
Daughter: Jonelle West (b. 1957)
Son: Hunter West (b. 1958)
Girlfriend: Linda Cristal (Argentine actress, together 1968)
Wife: Marcelle Tagand Lear (m. 1971, one daughter, one son)
Daughter: Nina West (TV host, b. 1976)
Son: Perrin West (b. 1979)
Daughter: Moya Lear Tsatos (Lear's daughter adopted by West)
Daughter: Jill Lear (artist, Lear's daughter adopted by West)
High School: Lakeside School, Burien-Seattle WA
University: BA Literature and Psychology, Whitman College (1951)
Beta Theta Pi Fraternity
Family Guy Mayor of Quahog (2000-17)
The Adventures of Pete & Pete Principal Kent Schwinger (1993-96)
Batman Batman / Bruce Wayne (1966-68)
The Detectives Starring Robert Taylor Det. Sgt. Steve Nelson (1961-62)
FILMOGRAPHY AS ACTOR
Superheroes: A Never-Ending Battle (8-Oct-2013)
Super Capers (20-Mar-2009) · Manbat
Ratko: The Dictator's Son (10-Jan-2009)
Meet the Robinsons (23-Mar-2007) [VOICE]
Chicken Little (3-Nov-2005) [VOICE]
Stewie Griffin: The Untold Story (23-Jul-2005) [VOICE]
Monster Island (7-Mar-2004) · Dr. Harryhausen
Baadasssss! (7-Sep-2003) · Bert
Return to the Batcave: The Misadventures of Adam and Burt (9-Mar-2003)
Drop Dead Gorgeous (9-Jul-1999)
An American Vampire Story (1997)
Joyride (1996) · Harold
The New Age (13-Sep-1994)
Mad About You (1990)
Doin' Time on Planet Earth (1988)
Zombie Nightmare (1986)
Young Lady Chatterley II (15-Nov-1985)
One Dark Night (1983)
The Happy Hooker Goes Hollywood (May-1980) · Lionel Lamely
The Specialist (May-1975)
The Eyes of Charles Sand (29-Feb-1972)
The Marriage of a Young Stockbroker (19-Aug-1971)
The Girl Who Knew Too Much (Nov-1969)
Batman (30-Jul-1966) · Batman
The Outlaws Is Coming (1-Jan-1965) · Kenneth Cabot
Robinson Crusoe on Mars (17-Jul-1964) · Col. Dan McReady
Soldier in the Rain (27-Nov-1963) · Capt. Blekeley
Tammy and the Doctor (29-May-1963)
Geronimo (1-May-1962) · Delahay
The Young Philadelphians (21-May-1959) · William Lawrence III
Author of books:
Back to the Batcave (1994, memoir)
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