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September 27, 2005

Actor Don Adams Passes Emmy-winning Get Smart Star was 82

Don Adams

Los Angeles, CA –
Actor Don Adams, who created one of the most indelible characters in television history as the star of the 1960s spy spoof Get Smart, has died. Adams, who was 82 and had been diagnosed with bone lymphoma more than two years ago, passed away at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles from complications of a lung infection.

In Get Smart, a goofy send-up of the Cold War international espionage genre defined by the James Bond films, Adams portrayed Maxwell Smart, Agent 86 of the fictitious Washington intelligence agency CONTROL. Partnered with the beautiful Agent 99, played by Barbara Feldon, he was frequently pitted against the evildoers of rival spy organization KAOS. Others in the cast included Edward Platt, as “Chief,” the dour head of CONTROL, and Bernie Koppel, who made numerous appearances as Smart’s Teutonic KAOS nemesis, Siegfried.

Get Smart, created by Mel Brooks and Buck Henry, ran on NBC from 1965-1969, after which it was picked up by ABC, where it ran for an additional year. The series earned four Emmys, three of which went to Adams for Best Actor in a Comedy Series.

By the time he was cast as Smart, Adams was already an established comedic performer with a lengthy stand-up career and numerous television appearances to his credit. He was born Donald James Yarmy on April 13, 1923, in New York City. At 16 he dropped out of high school and in 1941, during World War II, he enlisted in the Marines. Stationed in the Pacific theater, he contracted malaria in Guadalcanal and nearly died. Upon his return to the U.S. he served as a drill instructor.

When the war ended, Adams, a huge movie fan who in his youth used to entertain his classmates with movie star impressions, worked as a commercial artist and engineer while trying his hand at stand-up comedian and impressionist, with frustrating results. As a performer he changed his surname from Yarmy to that of his first wife, Adelaide Adams, as a way to be seen earlier in auditions, which were often held in alphabetical order.

Don Adams as "Maxwell Smart, Agent 86" the hit Get Smart series' fictitious Washington intelligence agency CONTROL.

His show-business breakthrough came in 1954, when he auditioned for Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts, a popular television show at the time, and won. Spurred by this success, Adams began collaborating with his friend and fellow performer Bill Dana to devise an on-stage persona, characterized by a clipped vocal delivery that made him one of the most popular comics of the era, replete with television appearances, comedy albums and frequent live appearances.

When Dana, who became a major comedy star courtesy of his Jose Jimenez character, got his own TV series playing Jimenez as a bellboy in a New York hotel, Adams was cast as the house detective, Byron Glick.

When Dana’s show went off the air, Adams remained under contract at NBC, which snapped up Get Smart and cast him in the lead when ABC passed on the project. When the show became a major hit, a few of Maxwell Smart’s signature utterances, including “Missed it by that much,” “And loving it,” “Would you believe...?” and “Sorry about that, Chief” became popular catch phrases. In an interview, Adams said he was offered a salary of $12,500 a week or a percentage of the show's profits. He opted for the latter, which turned out to be a shrewd decision given the show’s long life courtesy of reruns and revivals.

Post-Smart, Adams went on to star in such television series as The Partners and Check It Out, but was so identified with Maxwell Smart that it became difficult for some people to disassociate him from the character, particularly when Get Smart went on to play in syndication for years beyond its cancellation. Not surprisingly, Adams was hired to revive the character in the 1980 film The Nude Bomb, as well as in two made-for-TV movies and a short-lived TV series in which Adams was paired with Andy Dick as Maxwell Smart’s son, Zachary.

Away from his Agent 86 alter ego, Adams enjoyed success as the voice of cartoon penguin Tennessee Tuxedo and animated sleuth Inspector Gadget. He also became an award-winning commercials director after honing his skills by directing several episodes of Get Smart. In 1975 he hosted the syndicated series Don Adams’ Screen Test, a precursor to today’s reality competition shows in which contestants reenacted famous movie scenes with celebrity guest stars.

Adams was married and divorced three times. He and Adelaide Adams had four children. With his second wife, Dorothy Bracken, he had two children. He and his third wife, Judy Luciano, had once child. He is survived by six of his seven children, five grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

Services will be private, but donations in Adams’ name may be made to the Motion Picture & Television Fund, 22212 Ventura Blvd., Suite 300, Woodland Hills, CA 91364.

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