the late adam west bears striking physical resemblance to a fellow -an acquaintance I met recently on a work exchange trip to the Andalusian foothills close to the Sierra Nevada mountains in Spain. he was a British expat and ex-actor in is his late 70’s.
he had a fledgling career in the 1960’s, acting in various television series and European movies, even claiming to have auditioned for James Bond alongside Sean Connery before retiring from the business by his early 30’s. an imposing, still handsome fellow with a resonant, well spoken voice and a certain playfulness which could quickly turn to childish irritability after a glass of wine/gin or several, I was helping him out with various duties on his sprawling farmhouse retreat. there was still something of the actor in him, requiring me as the sole captive audience to his often fascinating life stories.
So…actors/ex actors? it’s a peripatetic, unpredictable, ephemeral existence. most who choose this profession vanish into obscurity, are quickly forgotten or simply fade, retire, change professions and quietly start a new life in a new town; the 95%. the five percent ware those lucky – to a degree; enough to make a living, have a successful career, become powerful, famous, iconic.
the industry, we the public chew them up and spit them out. shifting tastes, new shiny gods to worship and consume with our projected desires. we are fickle and cruel with our pop culture icons. one moment they are loved, the next they are forgotten and then years go by, they are loved again by which time it may be too late but for Adam West – who passed away a few days ago at the age of 88 – he hung on and was eventually revered and celebrated in his later years.
There are 193 film and television credits on Mr West’s IMDB page spanning the years 1954 to 2017 that are testament to his persistent work ethic and his emergence as an ironic, self-aware pop culture icon, there are 114 credits in which Mr West plays variations of himself; television talk shows, comedies, cartoon voiceovers, documentaries.
Batman is surely how we will remember Adam West and yet this role, on the singularly bizarre, camp, hugely popular television version of DC comics brooding caped crusader accounts for what? two, maybe three years of his life (1966-68) and work. And yet, in the immediate post Batman years he was typecast, unable to shake off the public perception of him as a knowing, playful, post modern performer who was of his time and ahead of it perhaps?
So playing such a larger than life figure seemed to derail rather than help his career and one would assume that the actor would become bitter during those dispiriting lean decades but Mr West kept working and on the evidence of the affectionate 2013 documentary Starring Adam West, he was a guy who did not surrender to bitterness or regret, approaching every job from both a practical standpoint – he had a family to support – and with the eagerness and joy of a child in the playground; he never lost this enthusiasm it seems. he loved to perform and to act no matter how big or small the project was.
Batman was a large shadow in which he seemed to eventually thrive rather than wither in his later years with his comedic timing and self-aware persona used to great effect as Mayor Adam West in Seth McFarlane’s long running animated hit Family Guy or as a deluded washed up TV actor Ty Lookwell in Conan O’Brien and Robert Smigels genius, what might have been television pilot ‘Lookwell’.