UPDATE: Adam West has been forced to cancel his scheduled weekend appearance at the Edmonton Comic & Entertainment Expo.
From his statement: "Adam West here...a crazy thing happened a few months ago in the Batcave: Bane broke my back and cracked three of my vertebra. Unfortunately, last week while I was in New York my back was re-injured. It is with a heavy heart that I'm making my first cancelation in 47 years of appearing at conventions.…I'm quite jealous of my good friend Burt (Ward), who will now be joined by the Feline Fatale Julie Newmar, Supernatural's Misha Collins, and the 6 Million Dollar Man himself, Lee Majors."
Adam West answers the phone with one word. And it’s not “hello.”
It’s nearly five decades since the actor portrayed Batman in the campy TV series that transformed a dying comic franchise into a commercial juggernaut, and West is still living the life. He's one of many actors to have played the Caped Crusader, but his take on Batman was never seen before — and never repeated.
“It [Batman] has kept me 54 for 20 years. Did you know 80 is the new middle age?” he jokes.
The names “Batman” and “Adam West” are inseparable. While the likes of Michael Keaton, George Clooney and Christian Bale have gone on to redefine the character on the silver screen, for many of the fans who will come to meet West at the Edmonton Comic & Entertainment Expo, the ‘60s ABC-TV Batman is still the formative film version of the character.
When asked why Batman is more popular now than when he debuted in the pages of Detective Comics in 1939, West says, “He is mysterious, fun and funny. And anyone can do it. Anyone can be Batman. He is an ordinary mortal, he has no superpowers. He isn’t from another planet. He doesn’t have to drink some chemical to get his powers. He is an ordinary guy who is obsessed with the murder of his parents, and he decides to do something about it.”
In fact, long before West was picked to play Batman, he read the comic books and imagined he would one day become Batman.
“Every boy ran around and pretended to be Batman. I did that, up until I was nine or 10 years old. I had an old blue bath towel for a cape.”
While we can look back at that television series and marvel at how campy and wholesome it was — compared to how dark and foreboding the films and comics are today — we also have to acknowledge that West saved the character.
Without that TV series, the likes of famed comic writer Frank Miller would never have given us The Dark Knight Returns. There would have been no Tim Burton or Christopher Nolan Batman films. Batman might have not survived the '60s.
When West’s Batman debuted in 1966, sales of the comic were flagging and Spider-Man (a teenager with teenage problems who also happened to be a superhero) had replaced Batman as the heroic everyman.
But, the camp, humour and wholesome nature of the TV series took the darkness out of Batman and made him a pop-culture sensation again. And it helped DC Comics, the home of Superman and Batman, stabilize itself after an onslaught of new comic characters, such as the Hulk and Spider-Man, had pushed rival, Marvel, to the fore.
The Batman TV series helped save DC Comics.
“They call me the Billion Dollar Batman — oh, how I’d like a piece of that!” says West, acknowledging the title of the 2011 book from pop-culture historian Bruce Scivally that traces the history of the Batman character. “But that means more people have still seen our show than have seen any of the new Dark Knight movies.”
Like William Shatner, West has made himself relevant in 2012 by allowing us to laugh at him, too.
When the creators of The Family Guy asked him to voice a character named Mayor Adam West, the actor breathed life into his namesake. There’s no mistaking the fact that Adam West, with that famous lyrical, velvety delivery, is playing the role of Adam West, even if the animated character has a penchant for firing cats out of a crossbow.
“I have to give the character a part of my personality,” says West. “I have to do that, because the character is so bizarre and, really, so insane. The trick is to make it fun, to walk the tightrope, which is something I did with Batman. You have to make it believable and quirky.”
West and Burt Ward, who played Robin on the ‘60s Batman series, will be together at the Edmonton Comic & Entertainment Expo (Oct. 20 to 21 at the Edmonton Expo Centre). West does about 10 conventions a year (and of them about two or three are with Ward).
The conventions are far from being a drag for him. He loves them.
“I think it’s great to get together with the fans," he says.
"I've been able to have a career for 50 years. It would be so much better if more actors and other celebrities paid attention to their fans. Then, they would have careers that lasted longer than 10 minutes.”