Don Adams, the star of the 60’s TV spy spoof Get Smart and the cartoon voices of the leading characters on Tennessee Tuxedo and Inspector Gadget, died of a lung infection late Sunday at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, says his former agent.
Adams was 82 and had been in ill health for a year, since breaking a hip, the Associated Press reports.
At the height of the 007 James Bond craze in 1965, Adams played Agent 86 Maxwell Smart in the Saturday-night NBC comedy, which was created by Mel Brooks and Buck Henry. Smart – whose beautiful sidekick played by Barbara Feldon was named, simply, Agent 99 – worked for the federal information agency Control, whose enemy was Kaos.
Hopelessly inept and quick to judge, Smart rarely solved anything, leaving him to recant repeatedly to his chief (actor Edward Platt), “Would you believe … ?” The line became a national catchphrase.
Despite being dropped by NBC after two seasons (CBS picked it up for another three, and there were later revivals, including some on the big screen), Get Smart twice won the Emmy for best comedy series. Adams won three times as comedy actor in a series.
“It was a special show that became a cult classic of sorts, and I made a lot of money for it,” Adams said a decade ago, reports AP. “But it also hindered me career-wise because I was typed. The character was so strong, particularly because of that distinctive voice, that nobody could picture me in any other type of role.”
Born of Hungarian Jewish extraction in New York City as Donald James Yarmy, Adams picked up the staccato delivery he would later use professionally when he worked as a drill instructor in the Marines. (He had gotten sick overseas while serving in Guadalcanal and had returned stateside.) Besides spitting out words, Adams also turned up the tenor a notch and sounded nasal.
Adams began doing standup in New York nightclubs after the war, trying out material at night while working as a commercial artist by day. In all, Adams had three wives, and three divorces. His last marriage, to Judy Luciano, ended in 1977, after seven years. He had seven children, according to AP.
Feldon, 73, speaking to ABC Radio, said of Adams on Monday: “Being in front of the camera with him, doing the scenes with him, was like getting high on something. He had so much energy, and his timing was so beautiful, his comedic timing, that it was like you could almost inhale it and get high on it.”