The name Frank Gorshin may no longer ring familiar in every home in America, but news of the 72-year-old actor's death has much of the nation taking one last opportunity to appreciate just how far-reaching his influence was on modern-day pop culture.
Gorshin, a master impressionist and veteran of nearly 200 film and television appearances, is best remembered for his Emmy-nominated role as the Riddler on '60s TV show "Batman." After a lengthy battle with lung cancer, emphysema and pneumonia, and with his wife of 48 years at his side, the actor said goodbye to a world anxiously awaiting next month's new "Batman" film, whose villains will undoubtedly have some trace of the actor's fingerprints on them.
"He thought ['Batman'] was great, because no matter where he went, it's a legendary show," said Fred Wostbrock, his agent and longtime friend. "It's a classic. Every 10 years a new generation of fans discover it. Everybody would come up to him."
Gorshin's regular appearances as the rail-thin, cackling villain in green tights set the blueprint not only for the other evildoers on the hit show, but also for future generations of TV and film supervillains.
"About six months ago, [Gorshin was] in Malibu at some restaurant," Wostbrock recalled of a meeting between Gorshin and the actor who donned the Riddler's question-mark costume some 30 years later. "Jim Carrey happened to be there, and Frankie was walking in to eat. Jim Carrey was already eating, and Frankie was going to his seat. Jim Carrey stood up and yelled, 'Frank!' In typical Frank style, he didn't think it was for him, so he was looking around. Jim Carrey came right over to Frank and gave him 20 minutes on how much he loved him. Frank couldn't believe it."
"He, too, was on the very first episode," Adam West, the show's titular caped crusader, said in a statement about Gorshin. "He helped make the series a smash. I'll miss him dearly. He made me laugh; it's a great loss."
Wostbrock, who also serves as West's agent, was present at a final, recent visit between the two longtime friends. "The first thing Adam says when he walks into his room is, 'Frank, you're back on TV,' " Wostbrock recalled, "because there's a monitor over his bed that had his name, heart rate, the pulse and the other things. Frank laughed. It was very funny. Then of course, they spoke about the good old days, the old times and this and that. Adam knew it was the last time he'd ever see Frank."
"He helped bring life into our classic 'Batman' TV series," West wrote in his statement. "Frank will be missed. Frank was a friend and a fascinating character."
Gorshin hung out with the infamous Rat Pack and reportedly taught Sammy Davis, Jr. how to do impressions. He received a second Emmy nomination for a guest appearance on a classic 1969 episode of "Star Trek," occasionally voiced such characters as Yosemite Sam and Daffy Duck, and continued to have a hand in the comic-book universe with vocal work on the current WB cartoon "The Batman." According to Wostbrock, however, it was the constant flow of new, diverse fans that demonstrated the distinctive influence of his career.
"Frankie was asked by Michael Jackson to open up for [the Jackson 5]," Wostbrock said. "Brad Pitt was a big fan; they did a movie together called '12 Monkeys.' So was Bruce Willis; they were all excited Frankie was going to be there because as a kid, Bruce Willis loved the Riddler on 'Batman.' Brad Pitt loved 'Batman' and 'Star Trek,' and Frankie was on both."
Gorshin impacted the film and television industries and was also a part of music history. "He was [on 'The Ed Sullivan Show'] the night the Beatles were on," Wostbrock said of the 1964 American debut of the Fab Four. "He performed on that very show. He'd always told me a funny story: he looked out the window at 42nd and Broadway and saw hundreds of girls lined up. He turned around and said, 'Hey, how did they all know I was here?' "
Most recently, Gorshin was surprised to learn that his list of admirers happened to include one of the hottest directors in Hollywood. "Quentin Tarantino directed John Travolta in 'Pulp Fiction,' where John Travolta did Adam [West]'s Bat-dance, the Bat-toosie," Wostbrock remembered. "Quentin said, 'Hey, do the Adam West dance,' and they did it ... [Tarantino was a] big fan of Frank, and a big fan of Adam and a big fan of 'Batman.' "
When Tarantino was recently invited to guest direct an episode of one of TV's top shows, he insisted that Gorshin come by the set to cameo as himself. "Here's what's ironic," Wostbrock continued. "He's on the final episode [May 19] of 'CSI: Las Vegas.' Quentin Tarantino personally called him to do the TV show. This was exactly a month ago. It was his final performance. How ironic is it for Frankie to go out and make all the papers, and then tomorrow be seen on the closing of 'CSI: Las Vegas'? Frank would have loved this."
"He was old school," Wostbrock said of a man who embodied the phrase long before it existed. "He was Bobby Darin, he was Elvis, he was Sinatra ... [he] always had a roll of dough in his pocket. That's what Sinatra had — five, 10 grand in green. Green is cash; the rappers think they have big stuff around their necks, well, Frank had his roll. Ten grand forty years ago was a ton of money ... classy guy."
Riddle us this: who else can claim to have influenced Frank Sinatra, Jim Carrey, Michael Jackson, Quentin Tarantino and Brad Pitt?
Frank Gorshin is survived by his wife Christina, of Connecticut; a son, Mitchell, of Orlando, Florida; and grandson Brandon, sister Dottie and husband Willie from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He'll be laid to rest in Pittsburgh, his hometown. In lieu of flowers or gifts, the family encourages donations to your local American Cancer Society.