Adam West, who donned a cape, cowl and tights to become an overnight sensation in 1966 as the star of the campy “Batman” TV series, has died, according to a family statement. He was 88.
West, who later lamented being typecast as the iconic Caped Crusader but eventually embraced having been part of American pop culture, died Friday in Los Angeles after a short battle with leukemia, according to multiple reports.
A former Warner Bros. contract player, West was appearing in TV commercials in the mid-1960s to help pay the rent. But several commercials he did for Nestle’s Quik chocolate powder — parodies of the popular James Bond movies in which West played a dry-witted character called Captain Q — had an unexpected outcome.
They caught the attention of 20th Century Fox TV producer William Dozier, who was looking for someone to star as Gotham City millionaire Bruce Wayne and his crime-fighting alter-ego, Batman, in a farcical new series for ABC.
Based on the DC character created by artist Bob Kane and writer Bill Finger in 1939, “Batman” debuted in January 1966 as a twice-weekly half-hour program — 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, with the Wednesday episode ending on a cliffhanger.
West knew his life would never be the same the night the heavily promoted first episode aired.
“I stopped at the market on the way home,” he told Esquire magazine in 2004. “I thought, ‘Tonight, I just want to be alone. I’ll stop, get a steak and a six pack, whatever, then go home and watch the debut of the show.’
“As I walked through the checkout line, I heard people saying, ‘C’mon, c’mon, hurry up. “Batman” is coming on!’ And I said to myself, ‘Goodbye, anonymity.’ ”
The tongue-in-cheek series roared into public consciousness like the Batmobile out of the Batcave.
With West as the strait-laced crime fighter who spoke with what has been described as ironic earnestness and Burt Ward as his youthfully exuberant sidekick, Robin, “Batman” was a pop culture phenomenon in a decade that was full of them.
“This whole thing is an insane, mad fantasy world,” West said of the show in a Chicago Daily News interview shortly before its debut. “And my goal is to become American’s biggest put-on.”
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