By People Staff
October 10, 2005 12:00 PM

Would you believe Don Adams was nothing like Maxwell Smart, the brash, klutzy but implacable secret agent he played in the ’60s TV spy spoof Get Smart? “He was not at all the bumbling idiot,” says Barbara Feldon, who costarred as Smart’s sultry partner Agent 99. “Don was extremely intelligent; he was interested in history. He used to write poetry.”

For fans of Adams, who died Sept. 25 of a lung infection at 82, the poetry was in his staccato, nasal delivery of lines like, “Sorry about that, Chief” and “Would you believe…?” which became national catchphrases. “I cast Don because I loved his standup act,” says Smart co-creator Mel Brooks. “He had a great deal of comic subtlety. A barge of dynamite might blow up, and he would give just a small little sigh like, ‘Well, we lost that one.'”

Yet while he went on to win three Emmys as Smart, reprising the role in two sequels and a short-lived 1995 FOX remake, “he longed to do serious stuff,” says Adams’s son-in-law, Deadwood actor Jim Beaver. “He was always saying [half-jokingly], ‘Get me a meeting with Martin Scorsese.'” Offscreen, Adams, a WWII Marine veteran who fought on Guadalcanal, led an embattled personal life. The thrice-divorced father of seven was an avid gambler, according to those close to him. “He could be very devoted to his family if you reminded him about it,” says his longtime friend, comic Bill Dana. “[But] Don’s whole life was focused around gambling.” In later years Adams suffered from a variety of ailments, including lymphoma. Then “my wife, Cecily, his fourth daughter, died last year [of cancer at 46],” says Beaver. “That was devastating. After that he seemed to take a turn for the worse.” Still, his comic genius lives on in DVDs. “Don was really smart,” says Brooks. “Not Maxwell Smart. He was Don Adams smart.”