Don Adams, star of the 1960s spy parody series Get Smart, died yesterday at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. The actor succumbed to a lung infection, though he had been in ill health since breaking a hip a year ago. He was 82.
Adams was born to Hungarian-Jewish parents in New York City on April 13, 1923. He joined the Marines in World War II, and after the war he became a Marine drill instructor. He made a living as an artist in New York city before stumbling upon his niche: comedy.
He began performing stand-up comedy in New York nightclubs and became half of a short-lived comedy duo. His talent for mimicry got him some spots on late-night talk shows and eventually landed him a role on Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts, an early television sketch comedy/variety show. After Talent Scouts, he became a regular on The Perry Como Show.
In 1965, comedy giants Mel Brooks and Buck Henry were shopping a series to the networks about a bumbling spy named (or numbered) Agent 86, aka Maxwell Smart...who was anything but. Smart battled the forces of the evil KAOS along with his partner, Agent 99, and a host of wacky gadgets, including a shoe that housed a phone, a telephone booth that was secretly an elevator, and a finger that doubled as a gun, to name but a few.
NBC wanted the show but insisted that Brooks and Henry cast Adams in the role of Smart. For once, network suits had it right, and Get Smart became a hit comedy as well as a lasting pop-culture icon. The show ran for five years and launched the Smart phrases "Would you believe?"; "Missed it by that much!"; and "Sorry about that, Chief!" into the American lexicon.
After the show ended its run, Adams guest-starred on many popular shows, including Love Boat, Fantasy Island, and The Fall Guy.
In 1980, a film version of Get Smart was released to poor reviews and equally poor box-office receipts. Titled The Nude Bomb, it pitted Agent Smart against a sadistic maniac whose plan was to destroy the world's clothing. Agent 99's Barbara Feldon was traded up to Agent 34's Sylvia Kristel. The film grossed an amemic $14.6 million, and everyone involved lost their shirts.
In 1983, Adams voiced the title character of the animated series Inspector Gadget, itself a quasi-parody of Get Smart. Adams imbued Gadget's catchphrase, "Go, go Gadget [insert Inspector Gadget gadget here]!" with a Smart amount of mirth and mischeviousness that helped Gadget become one of the top animated hits of the time period.
In 1995, Fox aired a reimagined Get Smart series that lasted seven episodes.
Like many actors who create such a memorable character, Adams felt both grateful for and hemmed in by Get Smart's legacy.
"It was a special show that became a cult classic of sorts, and I made a lot of money for it," he said in a 1995 interview. "But it also hindered me career-wise, because I was typed."