Adam West, best known for playing a spandex-clad Batman on TV in the 1960s, has died at the age of 88. And even if you never watched the famously, gloriously campy Batman in which West starred, you probably knew he was Batman anyhow.
That’s because decades after his Batman years, West displayed a particular talent for playing “Adam West” on TV — not himself, but a fictional character like himself. Sometimes, he played the actor about whom people knew nothing except that he was Batman. Sometimes he played a character named Adam West who had nothing to do with Batman. And sometimes he just played a totally wacky character with an eerily recognizable name.
A quick perusal of his IMDB page makes it clear that any exhaustive compilation of his cameos and self-owns would be lengthy, ranging from cartoons to sitcoms to children’s shows. But here are seven that show the wide range and self-referential good humor that made West a recognizable figure even to those who never saw him as the Caped Crusader.
In one of the storylines from “Apollo Apollo” (season 3, episode 16), NBC chief Jack Donaghy’s 50th birthday is coming, and he’s determined to throw himself the best party ever. In examining a list of life goals he made as a child, he discovers that he’s done all of them except one: become Batman’s friend. Determined to complete the list, Jack invites Adam West to his birthday party — and he comes. (Who wouldn’t?) But West is not nearly as cool as Jack hopes anymore, and when West calls Jack his “good friend, Jake Delahee,” he sets in motion a final epiphany for the birthday boy. The whole episode is hilarious, but it’s West’s willingness to pretend he’s become deeply uncool in the years since Batman that really make it sing.
West showed up twice on The Simpsons: in “Mr. Plow” (season 4, episode 9) and in “Large Marge” (season 4, episode 14). In this clip from “Mr. Plow,” West plays a version of himself who finds all of the new Batmans (Batmen?) a little . . . disappointing. Homer tries to introduce Bart and Lisa to West — the kids are less than impressed — and then winds up backing away from him verrrry slowly. This version of Adam West, the one who isn’t all that impressed with the actors who have to wear prosthetic chests to play the superhero, is both hilarious and totally believable.
West played a recurring Family Guy character named Adam West, the Mayor of Quahog, Rhode Island, who debuted in season 2 and showed up many times since, including the season 13 premiere, “The Simpsons Guy” (a crossover episode with the Simpsons). Mayor Adam West is notable for his eccentricity, but also for the fact that he never mentions Batman — a kind of recurring joke by omission.
West voiced the young version of SpongeBob SquarePants’ semi-retired superhero Mermaid Man, who — in a bit of reference to West’s physique in his young days — is described as being a “young, handsome, muscular lad” who nonetheless seems to need a lot of saving. The joke, of course, is that Mermaid Man and his sidekick Barnacle Boy are obvious spoofs of the 1960s Batman show in which West starred; the pair even conduct their operations out of the “Mermalair” (a send-up of the Batcave) and ride in a vehicle called the “Invisible Boat-Mobile,” a knock-off Batmobile.
The King of Queens
On “Shear Torture” (season 8, episode 6), Spence (Patton Oswalt) wants to bring Lou Ferrigno to Fantasy Fest — that is, until Adam West agrees to go with him instead. As you might guess, this does not end particularly well for Spence. West was himself a regular at Comic Cons around the country right through this past April, along with his Batman co-star Burt Ward, who portrayed his sidekick Robin.
Funny or Die
West made clips for comedy website Funny or Die on several occasions, but one of the best is “Batman Garage Sale,” in which Batman — having been ripped off by Bernie Madoff — needs to sell some stuff from his Batcave in order to fix his cash-flow situation. Unfortunately for him, the shoppers are less than impressed with his stories and his goods. It’s not strictly TV, but the bit showcases his ongoing tongue-in-cheek persona as someone who’s blurred the lines between Adam West and Batman a little too much. (Also worth watching, if you can track them down: his series of segments on the HBO series Funny or Die Presents titled “Adam West Hits On You . . . Hard.”)
The Big Bang Theory
No list of West’s best self-referential TV appearances would be complete without his appearance of the 200th episode of The Big Bang Theory. Obviously the show’s nerds are obsessed with Batman, but in this clip they argue about who was the best Batman with Adam West. He says he’s at the top of the list. Christian Bale is way down near the end. And at the very bottom? “That pretty boy, Clooney.”
The clip defines West’s late cameo years for a few reasons: Because it’s funny, because it portrays him as a curmudgeon who’s still convinced no Batman can be as good as the original, and because it was a highly anticipated guest appearance, which shows just how enduring West’s legacy will always be for both fans of Batman and fans of the man who was Batman.