May 18, 2005

'The Riddler' Frank Gorshin Dies at 72

BURBANK, Calif. - Frank Gorshin, the impressionist with 100 faces best known for his Emmy-nominated role as the Riddler on the "Batman" TV series, has died. He was 72.

Gorshin's wife of 48 years, Christina, was at his side when he died Tuesday at Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center, his agent and longtime friend, Fred Wostbrock, said Wednesday.

"He put up a valiant fight with lung cancer, emphysema and pneumonia," Mrs. Gorshin said in a statement.

Despite dozens of TV and movie credits, Gorshin will be forever remembered for his role as the Riddler, Adam West's villainous foil in the question mark-pocked green suit and bowler hat on "Batman" from 1966 to 1969.

The Riddler's high-pitched laugh was based on his own, Gorshin told AP Radio in 1997. "I fooled around with all kinds of different laughs and then I found out that when I do laugh I get this high-pitched laugh and I thought, 'This is what I'm going to use.'"

"It really was a catalyst for me," Gorshin recalled in a 2002 Associated Press interview. "I was nobody. I had done some guest shots here and there. But after I did that, I became a headliner in Vegas, so I can't put it down."

West said the death of his longtime friend was a big loss.

"Frank will be missed," West said in a statement. "He was a friend and fascinating character."

In 2002, Gorshin portrayed George Burns on Broadway in the one-man show "Say Goodnight Gracie." He used only a little makeup and no prosthetics.

"I don't know how to explain it. It just comes," he said. "I wish I could say, `This is step A, B and C.' But I can't do that. I do it, you know. The ironic thing is I've done impressions all my life — I never did George Burns."

Gorshin's final performance will be broadcast on Thursday's CBS series "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation."

Born in Pittsburgh, Gorshin broke into show business in New York. He did more than 40 impressions, including Al Jolson, Kirk Douglas, Bobby Darin, Dean Martin and James Cagney.

Later, he took his impressions to "The Ed Sullivan Show" on a memorable evening — the same night the Beatles were featured.

When asked by the AP how it felt to be the unlucky performer following the Beatles, he said, "I looked out the window of my dressing room and said, 'Look at all the kids that came to see me!'"

He also did impressions in Las Vegas showrooms, opening for Darin and paving the way for other impressionists like Rich Little. Sammy Davis Jr. said it was Gorshin who taught him to do impressions, Wostbrock said.

"He said you had to look like them and walk like them. Once you get that down, the voice comes easy," he said.

Gorshin's movie roles included "Bells are Ringing" (1960) with his idol Dean Martin and a batch of fun B-movies such as "Hot Rod Girl" (1956), "Dragstrip Girl" (1957) and "Invasion of the Saucer Men" (1957).

"He was fun, fascinating, wild and always a class act," Wostbrock said. "Here's a guy who always wore great clothes, stood up when a woman walked into the room — he was a gentleman. We did all our deals with a handshake. There was never a signed contract."

His other TV credits included roles on "General Hospital, "The Edge of Night" and "The Munsters" as well as guest appearances on "Donny & Marie," "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson," "Late Night with Conan O'Brien," "Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman," "Murder, She Wrote," "The Fall Guy," "Buck Rogers in the 25th Century," "Wonder Woman," "Charlie's Angels" and "Police Woman."

Wostbrock said the funeral would be private and Gorshin would be buried in the family plot in Pittsburgh.

'Riddler' actor Frank Gorshin dead at 72

LOS ANGELES - Actor and master impressionist Frank Gorshin, best known for his maniacally menacing turn as the Riddler on the 1960s TV series "Batman," has died at age 72, his agent said.

The veteran entertainer, diagnosed with lung cancer in 2003 while starring in a one-man Broadway show as comic legend George Burns, died on Tuesday at a hospital in Burbank, California, his agent and longtime friend Fred Wostbrock told Reuters.

Gorshin also had been suffering from emphysema and pneumonia, Wostbrock said.

His wife of 48 years, Christina, was with him at the end, the agent said.

Gorshin's death came two days before CBS was set to broadcast what became his final performance, a guest appearance on the season finale of the hit show "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation."

Gorshin, a Pittsburgh native, got his start in television and film in the 1950s and '60s, often playing bad guys. But he soon gained attention as a gifted impressionist, doing comic imitations of such stars as Kirk Douglas, Marlon Brando and Burt Lancaster on the nightclub and TV variety show circuit.

One of his first big appearances, on "The Ed Sullivan Show" in 1964, happened to coincide with the Beatles' famed first performance on that program.

But Gorshin's biggest break came in 1966 when he was cast in the recurring role of the Riddler, the cackling, fiendish arch enemy of Batman on the ABC series based on the popular comic book hero.

Gorshin made a dozen appearances as the Riddler on "Batman," earning an Emmy nomination for his work, and donned his green question mark-patterned suit again for a big-screen movie based on the series.

Fellow actor Adam West, who starred as the title character on "Batman," issued a statement saying his old on-screen foil "will be missed. ... Frank made me laugh. He was a friend and a fascinating character."

Looking back on his career in a 1996 Entertainment Weekly interview, Gorshin voiced mixed feelings on his Riddler role.

"It afforded me a lot of things in the way of financial success and recognition," he said. "But being known as the Riddler all this time, there's always that feeling: 'Gee, I wish there was something else they would recognize me for."'

Gorshin also is remembered by "Star Trek" fans for his memorable guest performance on that show as Commissioner Bele, a half-black, half-white alien who appeared in a favorite episode "Let That Be Your Last Battlefield," a parable on race relations.

Decades later, Gorshin portrayed the late George Burns -- a star he had never before included in his repertoire of impressions -- in the Tony-nominated Broadway show "Say Goodnight, Gracie,"

Wostbrock said it was during that show's run that Gorshin was diagnosed with cancer, but he remained with the production while undergoing chemotherapy and radiation treatments, never missing a performance.

No comments: