May 19, 2005

Actor and Impressionist Frank Gorshin Dies: Best Known as Batman Villain the Riddler

Frank Gorshin, the versatile actor perhaps best known for the role of arch nemesis the Riddler on the 1960s television series Batman, died Tuesday at the Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center in Burbank. Gorshin, who had been battling complications from lung cancer, emphysema and pneumonia, was 71. He is survived by his wife Christina and their son.
Widely admired for his protean skills as a mimic, Gorshin, whose arsenal of impressions included Al Jolson, Kirk Douglas, Dean Martin, Bobby Darin and more than 30 others, put his gifts to use in one of his last performances, on this season's finale of the CBS drama CSI. In the episode, directed by filmmaker Quentin Tarantino, Gorshin, playing himself alongside Tony Curtis, does three of his best impressions—Jack Nicholson, Burt Lancaster and Ed Sullivan.

Born April 5, 1934, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Gorshin began his performing career while still in his teens. At 17, he won a talent contest that earned him a one-week shot at a local nightclub where comedian Alan King was the headliner. In his first paying job as an entertainer, Gorshin took the stage with impressions of such well-known actors as Cary Grant, James Cagney and Edward G. Robinson.

Gorshin went on to study at the Carnegie Mellon school of drama, and at 19 he entered the U.S Army during the Korean War. Upon discharge from the service, he moved to Los Angeles, where he quickly found work in television and movies. In addition to feature films such as Bells Are Ringing and Where the Boys Are and guest-starring roles in several TV series, Gorshin became one of variety host Ed Sullivan’s favorite performers. In 1964 he appeared on Sullivan’s show the same night the Beatles made their American television debut before throngs of screaming fans. Recalling the evening, Gorshin quipped, “I looked out the window of my dressing room and said, ‘Look at all the kids that came to see me!’”

Over the next 40 years, Gorshin became a familiar face at Las Vegas nightclubs and appeared in dozens of films and television series, ranging from soap operas, westerns and crime dramas to sitcoms, variety shows and children’s cartoons. A partial list of his television work includes Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Combat!, The Munsters, The Virginian, Laugh-In, Star Trek, Ironside, Hawaii Five-O, S.W.A.T., Charlie’s Angels, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, Murder, She Wrote, The Edge of Night, General Hospital and The Ren & Stimpy Show.

His most enduring role was that of Batman villain the Riddler, whose cackling laugh, bowler hat and signature green suit adorned with question marks made him one of the comic-inspired show’s most memorable characters. Gorshin inhabited the inquisitive crook so thoroughly that he was the only Batman performer ever to earn an Emmy nomination.

In recent years, Gorshin continued to work in every facet of show business. In 2002, he earned critical plaudits for the one-man theater production Say Goodnight, Gracie, in which he starred as comedian George Burns—whom he had impersonated for decades as part of his stage act. During the show’s Broadway run, Gorshin earned a nomination for a Drama Desk Award and won the Outer Critics Circle Award.

Gorshin’s feature films include Hot Rod Girl, Studs Lonigan, That Darn Cat!, The Meteor Man, Twelve Monkeys and Twilight of the Ice Nymphs. At the time of his death, in addition to his work on CSI, he had recently completed voice work on the animated feature Firedog, which is scheduled for release later this year.

- Juan Morales

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