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Adam West, iconic 'Batman' of the 1960s, dies at 88

  • West's career was defined by "Batman", a timeless character he played for only a few years
  • West was suffering from leukemia when he died
  • "Kind, funny and all around great guy," said Ben Affleck, one of several actors who inherited the cape and cowl after West.
Albert L. Ortega | Getty Images

Adam West, the actor whose cartoonish portrayal of DC Comics superhero "Batman" made him a popular culture icon and endeared him to legions of fans, has died at age 88 after succumbing to leukemia.

In the comic book, Batman is portrayed as a complex anti-hero forged in darkness, whose career as a vigilante was galvanized by the murder of his parents. However, West's era was defined largely by the kitsch and camp endemic to the 1960s, qualities which extended to the rogue's gallery of villains he faced on a weekly basis.

In turn, fans loved him all the more for it.

West "passed away peacefully [Friday] night after a short but brave battle with leukemia," according to a statement from his family.

"He was a beloved father, husband, grandfather, and great-grandfather. There are no words to describe how much we'll miss him," it added.

West was an acting veteran who appeared in several television shows before landing the role that made him famous in "Batman." His turn in the campy 1966 television series, which only lasted three seasons, solidified his place in the hearts and imagination of fans everywhere. It also made him a near-permanent fixture at comic book conventions around the country.

Along with his teenaged ward Robin, the Caped Crusader embarked on countless Technicolor adventures set in the 'Swinging Sixties' of Gotham City, facing off against litany of bad guys such as The Joker, The Penguin and Catwoman. West's version of Batman was forced into repeatedly laughable imbroglios, which included him fending off sharks, running with lit bombs and walking along the sides of tall buildings engaged in full conversations with Robin.

In at least two episodes, West's spin on the "Watusi" —a popular dance move of the era — became a national craze in itself, and was rechristened the "Batusi."

West's television incarnation of "Batman" was a stark departure from the darker, brooding anti-hero depicted in DC Comics and subsequent movies. In the movies, billionaire Bruce Wayne's alter ego was played by the likes of Michael Keaton, Val Kilmer, George Clooney, Christian Bale and more recently, Ben Affleck — but with higher stakes and a more somber tone.

With its violence and Kafkaesque tone, Fox's current take on Batman, "Gotham," is also a far cry from the color-splashed, Dutch-tilted camera work of its predecessor.

The actor found his career defined by the cape and cowl he once donned, and West reportedly struggled to find work in the ensuing years after "Batman" was cancelled. West, however, thrived on voiceover work and commercials, and returned to popularity as the mayor of Quahog, a fictional city in Rhode Island, on the animated series "Family Guy."

"You get terribly typecast playing a character like that," he told The Associated Press in a 2014 interview. "But in the overall, I'm delighted because my character became iconic and has opened a lot of doors in other ways, too." He returned to the role in an episode of the animated "The Simpsons."

The actor owned homes in Los Angeles and Palm Springs but lived mostly in Sun Valley, Idaho. He is survived by his third wife, Marcelle, as well as six children.

"We know you'll miss him too and we want you to know how much your love and support meant to him throughout the years," the family added. "Hug your loved ones today."

--The Associated Press contributed to this article.