Adam West, the actor known for playing the title role in the 1960s television series Batman, died Friday after a short battle with leukemia, his family confirmed to Variety, the Hollywood Reporter and the BBC. He was 88.
“Our dad always saw himself as The Bright Knight and aspired to make a positive impact on his fans’ lives. He was and always will be our hero,” his family said in a statement.
The actor is best remembered for his turn as Gotham’s Caped Crusader — though his career spanned six decades of film, stage and voice work.
Born William West Anderson on Sept. 19, 1928, to farmer Otto West Anderson and Audrey V. Speer, an opera singer and concert pianist, West grew up in Walla Walla, Washington, then relocated with his mother to Seattle at age 15 following his parents’ divorce. After graduating from Whitman College, he joined the U.S. Army after being drafted and served as an announcer on American Forces Network television. During this time, he found love and his first marriage with Billie Lou Yeager (1950–56).
After living in Hawaii for several years and advancing to the lead of the children’s series El Kini Popo Show, West — along with second wife Frisbie Dawson and their two children — struck out to find fame in Hollywood. West found roles on some of the most memorable series of the era, including Perry Mason, Outer Limits and The Rifleman. He also worked alongside some of the era’s greats — Paul Newman, Robert Taylor, Jackie Gleason, Steve McQueen and The Three Stooges.
West’s commercial work in the early part of his career, and one suave turn in a Nestlé Quik ad in particular, led to his biggest role: Bruce Wayne on the pow-crack-bang!-ing TV adaptation of the Batman comics. The series was on ABC from 1966–68, with a feature-length film version released in 1966.
Ben McKenzie, who would begin playing Gotham Police Commission-to-be Jim Gordon in 2014’s reboot Gotham, share how he, like many young boys had been influenced by the campy series. “I grew up watching the old Adam West version and playing with Batman figurines, ” he told PEOPLE in 2016. “I think everyone’s a Batman fan on some level.”
But the success of Batman was a double-edged sword. West revealed to PEOPLE in 1986 that, when the show ended, “It was impossible for me to get a role. If it got down to the wire for the part of the leading man, the powers that be would say, ‘Hey, what are you guys doing? You can’t put Batman in bed with Faye Dunaway.’ ”
Perhaps West’s biggest role that got away was the chance to play James Bond. He was offered the lead role in Diamonds Are Forever in 1970 but turned it down, staunchly insisting that the part of Bond must be played by a Brit.
West remained active in the industry, booking roles in films and guest spots on TV shows, for the next several decades, though he could not fully escape the bat cowl and was at times forced to earn his living by making personal appearances.
He returned to the role of Batman in the late ’70s, starring in both animated and live-action series including The New Adventures of Batman, The Batman/Tarzan Adventure Hour, Super Friends: The Legendary Super Powers Show and Legends of the Superheroes. He also expanded his role in the Batman universe by playing other characters in Batman: The Animated Series and The Batman. And though he was in the mix to play Bruce Wayne’s father in Tim Burton’s 1989 reimagining of the comics, he ultimately never participated in any of the big-screen remakes of Batman that have proliferated in the last several decades of his life.
But perhaps the greatest character West ever played was himself. Years spent cultivating and maintaining his fan base at increasingly influential comic book conventions made the actor an iconic figure in fandom, and he riffed on himself on both the small and big screen, establishing a thriving career as a voiceover artist while landing cameos in productions including Drop Dead Gorgeous, the Goosebumps TV series, The Adventures of Pete and Pete, The Ben Stiller Show, 30 Rock and The Big Bang Theory and, most notably, as Mayor Adam West on Seth MacFarlane’s Family Guy.
Even before that second wave of success, West surveyed his own accomplishments back in 1986, telling PEOPLE are the time: “When people get pretentious and talk about their great body of work, I think, ‘What the hell am I going to say?’ But then I look around and realize I’ve not done too bad for a farm boy.”