If there was one person who was shocked to learn of “Batman” star Adam West’s death, it was his sidekick Robin, played by Burt Ward.
The Cape Crusader passed away at age 88 on June 9 in Los Angeles after a short battle with leukemia.
“I saw him a couple of weeks ago. We had breakfast before signing autographs all day long,” the 71-year-old actor told Fox News. “ We we walked to the stage, he walked so fast I could barely keep up with him.
“He was in great condition. In my heart, he had no idea [what was going to happen]. He was talking about taking a trip to Europe with his wife next month. He asked me if I wanted to do some appearances in the UK because he was going to Europe… we were supposed to appear next week in Las Vegas. Plus, he was talking about adding bigger appearances.”
However, there were signs of West’s illness.
“From what I understand, on the flight back from our last weekend we worked together, he had some altitude sickness,” he recalled. “He wanted to get that checked. The doctors said, ‘You have a rise in white cell count’ and they discovered he contracted leukemia, but it was in the early stages. A very mild, quiet stage. And they said, ‘We’re going to give you some pills and you’ll be able to go home in a couple of days and you can live another 3-5 years or more.’ That doesn’t sound like someone who’s going to immediately decease. It was a complete shock.”
Ward and West fought crime in Gotham City for the DC comic series, which aired on ABC from 1966-1968. The actor said from the moment they met at a screen test for the show, they became fast friends — and that friendship would last for over 50 years.
“Nothing ever changed,” he said. “We were exactly the same after the first three minutes we met. We were both very fun-loving people and got along so well. We were such good friends that when we weren’t filming, we would occasionally go out on the weekends and play tennis… He was everything off stage that he was on screen. He was such a wonderful man.”
But being part of the dynamic duo wasn’t always fun and games. Ward recalled ending up in the emergency room for second degree burns, inhalation of gas, and even breaking his nose while bringing the comic to life.
“I didn’t think I was going to survive the first week,” he admitted. “We did 120 episodes and I really believed that in those last couple of episodes, the studio was trying to collect from that insurance policy!”
And Ward, who initially didn’t know anything about Batman, citing “Superman” and even “Superboy” as two comics he was more familiar with, had no idea how difficult it would be to even dress as Robin.
“I was told two wardrobe men were going to help me fit into my costume, which I thought was odd because I was perfectly capable of dressing myself,” he explained. “I put this costume on and I gotta tell you, it was the most uncomfortable thing in my entire life. And I won’t go into the gory details, but I can tell you one thing: man was not built for tights!
“I hobbled out of that dressing room. 120 episodes! It took five days, 12-14 hours a day to make each one. I do have a costume now, but I only wear it on two occasions. One is when I go trick or treating. The other is for very private moments with my wife.”
West wasn’t the only beloved friend Ward had the chance to work with on set. His neighbor, martial artist Bruce Lee, appeared in “Batman” as The Green Hornet’s sidekick valet, Kato.
“We lived in the same cluster of condominiums,” he said. “He lived with his wife Linda and his son Brandon, who was 6-months at the time. We became friends and used to spar together. We would go down to Chinatown for dinners. Of course Bruce, who lived in Hong Kong for 10 years, knew all of the special stuff to order. We had a great time… His very first filmed fight scene of his career was fighting me for ‘Batman.’”
Lee died of a cerebral edema in 1973 at the age of 32.
Ward remembered Lee fondly.
“He was a very nice guy. Very funny. And very confident, no question about that.”
While Ward kept busy over the years meeting fans and tackling other roles, he and his wife Tracy pursued another passion of theirs. It started in August 1994 when they began rescuing and adopting Great Danes in need.
Since then, they launched Gentle Giants Rescue and Adoptions. Ward said the couple has rescued over 15,000 dogs.
“Every one we’ve saved from being put to death,” he said. “We provide love, food, and complete medical care. Regardless of what they needed, surgeries — we take care of it. We take no salary from our charity.”
The Wards also developed Gentle Giants Natural Foods. The funds they receive from selling their own brand of dog food goes directly to support the animals.
“I only wish what I’ve done for dogs I could have done for my dear friend Adam so that I could have him for another 88 years,” he said.