The comic and mimic, known for his role on the '60s TV series, succumbs to lung cancer

By Stephen M. Silverman
Updated May 18, 2005 02:00 PM

Frank Gorshin, a deft impressionist best remembered for playing the villainous Riddler on the campy 1960s TV show Batman, died Tuesday at a Burbank hospital. He was 72.

Entertainment Tonight reports that Gorshin’s wife of 48 years, Christina, was at his side when the end came, after he had been hospitalized for some time with lung cancer, emphysema and pneumonia.

Besides his wife, a son, sister and grandson survive him.

A native of Pittsburgh, Gorshin started out doing impressions of movie gangsters Jimmy Cagney and Edward G. Robinson at local nightclubs after graduating from the drama school of Carnegie-Mellon.

Of his mimicking talent, Gorshin once said: “I do not do hundreds of impressions. My entire repertoire of impressions numbers less than 50. I never set out to do an impression of a person. However, when something a star does suddenly sparks my imagination, I find myself doing an impression of him-first for my own amusement, later for my repertoire.”

His first big movie break, in which he delivered a Marlon Brando imitation, was in the 1960 MGM adaptation of the Broadway musical Bells Are Ringing, as one of the telephone answering service customers helped by heroine Judy Holiday.

While other, minor movie roles followed, it was his catchphrase “Riddle me this, Batman” that made him a household name, after his many earlier appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show and other variety programs of the day.

Another favorite role of Gorshin fans, as well as Trekkies, was in the original run of Star Trek, when he made a guest performance as Commissioner Bele, a half-white, half-black alien, in the favorite episode “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield,” a parable on race relations.

For the past few years, Gorshin toured in a one-man show as the beloved late comedian George Burns, in Say Goodnight, Gracie, which he had successfully played on Broadway.

Interestingly enough, Gorshin’s final performance is on Thursday’s season finale of CSI. He makes a cameo appearance on the two-hour episode, which was directed by Quentin Tarantino.