Robin: “To the batcave?” Batman: “And up the batpoles.” Robin: “The batpoles?”
Batman: “Even crimefighters need their sleep, Robin.”
On June 9th, 2017 the world lost a great man. Adam West passed on at the age of 88 after a battle with Leukemia, a particularly unforgiving leukocytic form of cancer originating in the bone marrow. It seems that nature has been cold, cruel and just as unforgiving over the past year. From Darwyn Cooke to Carrie Fisher to Rich Buckler to Sir Roger Moore to Berni Wrightson, the list goes on of greats and titans that we have lost to life and to time.
Adam West’s death impacted me harder than most and – at first – I wasn’t sure why. You see, I have never met Adam West nor did I grow up at a time when his quintessential series was broadcast live on televisions across America. I grew up in the 1980’s with a brooding and darker knight. I grew up with the Tim Burton and Frank Miller type of batman that is jaded and gritty and all too serious. So why, then, did Mayor Adam We’s (Family Guy reference not a typo) death weigh so heavily on my heart?
I will tell you what I found but first I want to tell you what I quickly realized and it’s really quite amazing. I found I am not alone. The legion of fans that this man has gained over the decades of his celebrity is phenomenal. But that’s not the most amazing thing. The most amazing part of that piece of this story is that not one single person I’ve heard from or from whom I’ve read stories has a single negative to say about Adam West. But there’s more. Some times all it took was one encounter with him decades ago to have won a fan’s heart and loyalty.
See, Adam was the type of guy who truly appreciated each and every one of his fans. “I can’t tell you how grateful I am to those fans.” He was once quoted as saying. There has been a plethora of heartfelt eulogies from his peers and folks from the industry like Burt Ward, Kevin Smith, Ralph Garman and more but I wanted to hear what MY peers were saying. The fans. The folks who watched every episode of the Batman tv series and the fans who still regularly watch the ’66 Batman movie. The Family Guy fans. The folks who jumped with excitement at his massive amount of television cameos of the years. I reached out to some of the folks on the CBCS forum and some of their stories are wonderful and I am grateful to them for sharing.
“Nice and very gentle man. He once sang a song to my wife at Dallas Con years ago. Will be missed. A real Batman Hero.” Comicsforme said.
Another forum member with the handle Mef commented; “I met Adam West at DCC. I walked up to get his autograph and greeted him by saying MAYOR WEST! Without missing a beat he said in that smooth voice “Ah, one of my constituents.” One of my favorite memories to date. RIP Mayor West.”
KiloGraham also commented; “Almost at a loss for words. Adam West was one of my childhood inspirations, I even went out for Halloween as his batman in a custom costume made by my mother.
Mr. West, you and your strange (borderline stalker) obsession with Eartha Kitt will be greatly missed.”
Along with a wonderful story about his childhood memories in front of the floor-standing Zenith T.V., ‘esavaro’ said this; “that show probably influenced me into buying comic books more than anything else. In fact, I wanted everything Batman as a kid. I still have my Batman fork and spoon that I used to eat with, and I have a cheap plastic Batman wallet that I bought at a local drug store that also sold comics (you had to go behind a counter where they were laid out on a shelf). I even had all the sets of Batman cards that came out then, but eventually I traded those for comics. To me, Adan West will always be THE BATMAN. His charm, style, and wit will be sadly missed. Today’s stars and even comic artists should be more like him. RIP”
Drogio met Adam West nearly 28 years ago at the Snell Auditorium during the “summer of Batman” He spoke fondly of the experience; “…he made that night special for me…and every time I pull this comic out with his autograph out I smile. Every time. And part of that is because he IS somewhat of a nutball…but in the best and most charming of ways.”
A great many people grew up watching Batman on television in the late 1960’s. The show, with all it’s wit and camp and theatrics left an indelible mark on fans that carried on with them long after the show went dark at the end of it’s third season in 1968. The show taught folks right from wrong, it taught them how to be a better person. It gave them – as Kevin Smith said – a morality barometer. He would often teach his audience, in speaking with Robin, good lessons; “Good grammar is essential, Robin.” or “Dancing is an integral part of every young man’s education.” or even “You’ve made a hasty generalization, Robin. It’s a bad habit to get into.” He taught people the importance of economics and of staying positive and optimistic. He told people to stay away from strong stimulants like camel grass juice, the danger of man-eating lilacs and the lure of the female persuasion. Batman became a compass for right and wrong, a teacher of life’s values and of family values. But above and beyond that the show, and he, gave people laughter. In all the anecdotes and all the stories I hear, a common element is that Adam loved to laugh. He loved when his fans laughed.
Adam once said; “As an actor, I just like to make people happy, make them laugh. That’s our job, to entertain, and if I’m entertaining you folks, then I’m happy.”
You couldn’t help but laugh with the show. Adam play Bruce Wayne and Batman with such a serious deadpan in the face of absurdity that it was impossible not to see the humor in each of those situations. But it was exactly that. It was the contradiction of it all that made it so wonderful. Adam played such a pragmatic and humorless character in a such subtely comedic and campy way that no one else then or now could. In an interview in 2005 West said; “Batman was comedy, let’s face it. What I loved about Batman was his total lack of awareness when it came to his interaction with the outside world. He actually believed nobody could recognize him on the phone, when he was being Bruce Wayne, even though he made no attempt to disguise his voice.”
But that same contradiction of it all is still so true now. In the cinematic world of darkness and grittiness of present day, Adam gave us something bright and optimistic (to a fault) and fun to still enjoy. In the real world of turmoil and terrible news, Adam gave us something to laugh at.
And THAT – readers – is why I am so impacted by Mr. West’s passing: The laughter and the life lessons. He and his character taught us how to be good. He gave us Batman. I loved his (sometimes) irreverent humor on Family Guy, the campiness of ’66 Batman, the absurdity of his cameos on Babble-On and Big Bang Theory and The Simpsons (to name but a few). I loved the pureness of his Bruce Wayne and – as I learned – the pureness of the man himself. I loved the hopeful outlook on life he pulled through in his characters. The way he had a little smirk when his lines were met with laughter. It’s what I need, what the world needs. One of his best lessons is that we need to laugh at life and at ourselves and the world.
Sadly, the hope and sanguine innocence of his Batman and the man himself has faded this week, the laughter not as hearty. The world not as optimistic. My world of Gods and Monsters, of Super Men and Heroes, and champions of right and justice seems a little bleaker today.
For all his career achievements, he’ll always be best known for playing Batman – THE Batman – but perhaps his best work was the love and appreciation and attention he gave to others. It’s a real gift he gave to his legions of fans like me, it’s gift I received without having met him. His star shone bright long after his most famous work ended. It’s true, you can see it in the stories shared by the forum members and in the teary eyes of his friends and peers fondly reflecting on their time with him.
His star shone bright indeed and now – with his passing – the Bat Signal will always shine a little dimmer now that our Bright Knight is gone.
“Even crimefighters need their sleep, Robin.”