Adam West barely recognizes Gotham City these days. "Batman is so dark now," the actor told The Times in 2009 with a carefree chuckle. "The new films, they are grim, gothic, full of explosions, mayhem. It's the way of things, I suppose; the whole world seems darker."
The world was also heaving with angst back when West wore the cape for 26 months of prime-time silliness that began in January 1966. The native of Walla Walla, Wash., became an icon of camp with his masked-man deadpan and, for much of America, his version was the definition of the Caped Crusader for decades.
Batman now seems closer kin to Dracula and Dirty Harry than to Dick Tracy, but don't tell that to West, who is still dancing the Batusi and enjoying his busy role as an elder statesman of farce.
"I look at [it] this way: They've got 'The Dark Knight,' and I was the bright knight," he said with the breathy, oddball diction that has kept him in demand as a voice actor in animation. "Or maybe I was even ... the neon knight."
With appearances on "30 Rock," "Family Guy," "The Fairly OddParents" and more, West has also earned a new generation of fans who never saw the old "Batman" series except maybe in snatches on YouTube.
"I'm like Madonna: I keep reinventing myself," said West. "I get called 'Mayor West' a lot in airports. I've been very fortunate to have a fan base that keeps growing, and the work gets such a warm response and humor from people."
Like William Shatner of "Star Trek," West spent a considerable amount of his career feeling smothered by his short-lived but unforgettably eccentric TV role from the 1960s: "I remember the struggle that I had," West said. "I mean, I did the Music Center in L.A., I did the Mark Taper Forum, I did regional theater, anything I could to keep working. I think it's an actor's obligation, if possible, to keep working, playing the instrument. But, yes, there were a lot of doors closed for a long time."
As the years passed, West (again, like Shatner) eventually decided the better tactic was to celebrate and spoof the old reruns instead of fighting them. Still, there was a tinge of jealousy in West's voice when he talked about the actors today who can play Batman, Wolverine or Iron Man and simply move on to the next nonhero role without the sort of treacherous typecasting that faced West, Clayton Moore, George Reeves and Christopher Reeve.
"I've never felt the envy ... well, I don't know. Maybe I have a little," West said. "I look at it and I think, 'Well, it's a lot simpler now to do other things.' And why is that? Well, I think they're in big movies on big screens and they're in roles written so the actor can have moments outside of that superhero thing. I fought for that a little bit and they gave me a little more Bruce Wayne, but still he was a comedic Bruce Wayne.... It was still theater of the absurd."
The Neon Knight said he has no plans to slow down, even though nearly 60 years have passed since he made his television debut in "The Philco Television Playhouse."
"The reaction has been so positive and good for me that I love it now," West said of his enduring pop-culture image. "How could I not? I would hate to be a bitter, aging actor. I've been so fortunate to have this opportunity to bring Batman alive on the screen. There's a lot of talent, money and expertise with the new films. They're beautifully crafted, but there's something about our Batman that still strikes a chord. And as for me, I'm too young and pretty to retire, as somebody once said."