FELTS: The perseverance of Adam West

Columnist Jonathan Felts (c) with actors Burt Ward (l) and Adam West (r). Photo courtesy of Jonathan Felts.

“That’s a wonderful photo you have there, citizen.”The tone and inflection of that voice was easy to identify after countless hours watching villains ham it up over the top of technicolor sets as our heroes fought to defend Gotham City. And, I had after all, travelled to the comic book convention specifically to meet the guy.But I was still shocked to turn around and confirm that yes, it was Adam West looking over my shoulder at a photo of me and… Adam West.I tell political leaders what they don’t want to hear. I’ve met with Afghans who had, earlier in the day, pontificated on the merits of shooting me. And I’ve done more press interviews than I should admit on topics I knew nothing about. Through it all, I’m never rendered speechless.But, looking back at West and his bemused but subtle smirk, I stood there for a moment in stunned silence before finally offering an eloquent, “Thank you sir. This is… it’s just a really cool picture, man.”The news of West’s passing has already launched numerous columns filled with fond memories and anecdotes from the iconic ’60s era TV show. We can all agree the show is great, deftly combing campy humor with a subtle wit under West’s Bat-leadership. The show would leave children fearing for their heroes’ fate while wondering why their parents kept laughing at the same episode. The show worked on multiple levels.But equally important and often overlooked is how West handled things after the show.West rose from relative obscurity to international fame almost overnight. By all accounts, he enjoyed the perks of that fame. According to Hollywood lore, West earned his reputation as a ladies’ man at the height of his Bat-fame.But much like a great campaign or a politician’s term in office, it’s great fun while it lasts. And when it’s over, it’s over.In West’s case, it ended almost as abruptly as it started, but with a significant complication. West the actor had been indelibly linked to the character: no one wanted to cast Batman in their serious movie. Adam West couldn’t land the next gig.West has openly discussed the bitterness he felt during this time. Eventually he left Hollywood for Idaho. There was a family history with alcohol abuse and depression and West fell prey to that. It was here he could have embraced the cliché of Hollywood burnout.But he didn’t.West decided to embrace that he was forever linked to an American icon. Rather than being bitter about it, he would make the most of that role. He travelled the country for special appearances and gave voice to Batman in multiple cartoon series.Some of these appearances were humbling, appearing at the opening of a new car dealership or showing up at a third-rate wrestling match in a cowl — sans Bat symbol. But he persevered.A large part of his popularity was restored when the Batman show got renewed attention in 1989 when his Batman was remembered, and appreciated for its import, as the world focused on Michael Keaton’s portrayal of a darker Batman.This left West perfectly positioned to rebound when ’60s kitsch evolved into Hipster Retro cool in the ’90s and 21st century. West’s renewed popularity culminated in a successful (political) comeback when he joined the show “Family Guy” giving voice to none other than The Honorable Adam West, mayor of Quahog, Rhode Island.West’s perseverance through the humbling appearances, the continued popularity of the show for new generations of fans, and then new fans courtesy of “Family Guy” yielded a surprising evolution. The mantle of American icon was transferred from Batman the character to Adam West the person.As we mourn Adam West, we should remember not only his signature role of Batman but also how he faced hardship. Rather than ignoring it, West eventually embraced it with a bit of quiet confidence and understated humor, but also a subtle smirk to let everyone know he was in on the joke.As our Bright Knight goes quietly into the night, we can all learn from Adam West. He chose to be a victor rather than a victim. One doesn’t become an American icon doing something easy, but by facing down adversity.Jonathan Felts works in Raleigh at The Results Company, a public affairs firm.