People Staff
June 06, 2005 12:00 PM

On Batman, their campy ’60s TV series, title I star Adam West and Frank Gorshin (the Riddler) played archenemies. But the actors forged a lifelong friendship. “We always made each other laugh,” says West, even when he visited his old pal May 16 in a Burbank hospital, where Gorshin lay terminally ill with lung cancer and other respiratory ailments. Pointing to the medical monitor above Gorshin’s bed, says West, “I said, ‘Hey, Frank, look, you’re still on TV’ ” Gorshin, a veteran of more than 75 films and dozens of TV guest shots (his last, on CSI, aired May 19), “actually smiled through the breathing mask they’d put over his face.”

For Gorshin, a former five-pack-a-day smoker who died the next day at age 72 with Christina, his wife of 48 years, at his side, being known as the Riddler was “kind of a love-hate thing,” says West. The role enabled the Pittsburgh-born character actor to show off his other talent—as a rubber-faced impressionist who uncannily channeled Kirk Douglas, James Cagney, Cary Grant and other Hollywood icons. In the ’60s, “he was the first impressionist to become a [Las Vegas] headliner,” says rival Rich Little. But, “he’d say, I’m a serious actor’ “—as he proved in an Emmy-nominated performance as an alien torn by racial prejudice on Star Trek and as George Burns in an acclaimed one-man stage show that ended in April. “He said to me, ‘I could play Burns till the day I died,’ ” recalls Little. “Which is what he [almost] did.”

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