I wasn’t around yesterday to post when the news came pouring in. And I mean poured. Multiple friends texted and emailed to let me know Adam West had passed. It was a short but noble battle with leukemia.
Every time a legend like this leaves this world, I feel compelled to write something, and I find I don’t know how. Usually I write something quick in the moment, and I know it’s not enough. This time I’ve had some time to think first. I’ve been reading other tributes to West as they’ve come in. Some have pointed out what a great guy he was to know. Others rightfully pointed out that you can’t get to modern day portrayals of Batman without going through Adam West simply because he singlehandedly saved the character from oblivion in an age when superheroes weren’t popular.
The only thing original I can share is a memory. I got to meet him back in October of 2001. Bat-Con was held here in Dallas. It was less than a month after 9/11, so the planes had barely started flying again. Burt Ward understandably refused to get on one yet, so I missed the chance to shake his hand. Frank Gorshin and Yvonne Craig, both now gone, were there, as was Julie Newmar and the man himself. West was the first of them I got to meet. The first word that comes to mind is “jovial.” He really was one of those guys who was exactly as you’d hoped he would be. They all were, which says a great deal for the cast they assembled back in ’66. Batman: The Movie had been (finally) recently released on DVD after decades in copyright hell, and West was kind enough to autograph my copy. Unlike the stars today who charge a king’s ransom for their scrawl, West and all of his costars were affordable — $20 — for which I was beyond grateful due to my pitiful budget. I hadn’t yet received my first paycheck from my new job and was still apartment-scouting. Upon seeing the DVD, he was overjoyed.
“Have you watched this yet?” he asked, leaning towards me over the table with unbridled enthusiasm. “The sound on this incredible! It never sounded this good even when it was new! How did they do that?” I didn’t know what to say. I was too busy grinning from ear to ear. He held up the disc to the other actors who were signing for people ahead of me in line. “Have any of you watched this? Seriously, it sounds fantastic!”
Gorshin piped up from the other side of the line. “Can we still hear you?”
West flashed a grin. “I’m the star. They made me louder!”
“That’s not possible,” Gorshin replied. “They must have broken something.” Newmar gave him an elbow in the ribs, and everyone laughed.
West turned back to me and as he started to sign, he looked at me and said, “This movie was so much fun to make.” He explained that this is where they got the budget to get all of the new Bat-vehicles that we’d see in seasons 2 and 3 of the series, and how much fun it was to drive them. This is also where I first learned he’d been considered for James Bond. “Bond’s toys weren’t nearly as fun as mine. It seemed like a pay cut.”
Easily one of the best convention experiences I ever had.
The Q&A later on was most enlightening as well. West referred to the 60s series as “theater of the absurd” and explained a great deal of what he thought made that series work, even when maybe it shouldn’t have. He spoke about it not as though he were remembering some glory days gone by, but as though he were somehow still living it. That might be why he was so affable to the fans. Even though the way Batman had been portrayed had moved on, he knew beyond all doubt his version was always going to be remembered by those who enjoyed it.
I know I always will. This was the version I grew up with, every evening in reruns after school.
Godspeed, Adam West. You’ll be missed.