RIP Agent 86.
Don Adams, who gained worldwide fame and three Emmy Awards starring as Agent 86, Maxwell Smart, in the classic television comedy GET SMART, died at 8:02 p.m PDT, Sunday, September 25, 2005, at Cedars-Sinai Hospital in Beverly Hills. He was 82. Although he had been in failing health for more than two years due to bone lymphoma, his death resulted from a sudden lung infection for which he was hospitalized the previous day.
Born Donald James Yarmy on April 13, 1923 [correct, despite frequently reported erroneous dates] in New York City to Irish-Hungarian parents, Adams hoped for an engineering career. He joined the U.S. Marines in the early days of World War II and served as a drill instructor. He saw combat in the invasion of Guadalcanal and was the only survivor of his platoon. He contracted blackwater fever and nearly died, remaining hospitalized for more than a year.
Following the war, he embarked on a career as an impressionist and stand-up comedian, appearing in small clubs in Florida and Washington D.C. He married singer Adelaide Adams and took her professional last name as his own stage name. In 1954, his stand-up act, written with his boyhood friend Bill Dana, landed him a contestant spot on ARTHUR GODFREY'S TALENT SCOUTS, which he won. This led to scores of appearances on comedy and variety series such as THE STEVE ALLEN SHOW and Ed Sullivan's THE TOAST OF THE TOWN, and ultimately to a regular job on THE PERRY COMO SHOW. He also played in stock and in 1962 starred with Anthony Perkins in the Broadway play HAROLD.
Divorced and remarried (to dancer Dorothy Bracken), Adams in 1963 reunited with Bill Dana on THE BILL DANA SHOW, playing inept hotel detective Byron Glick, a forerunner to his most famous characterization. NBC placed Adams under contract and gave him the starring role in Mel Brooks's and Buck Henry's spy spoof GET SMART. As the bumbling yet intrepid secret agent Maxwell Smart, Adams was an instant success. With his alluring straight-woman partner Agent 99 (Barbara Feldon), Adams became a comic icon of the 1960s, popularizing dozens of catch-phrases that still resound today: "Would you believe?", "Missed it by THAT much!", "...and LOVING it!" and "Sorry about that, Chief."
Adams reveled in the show and its popularity, and particularly enjoyed writing and directing several episodes. GET SMART ran for five seasons and brought Adams wealth, awards, and worldwide fame. At the same time, he continued to achieve recognition as one of the funniest and most popular stand-up comedians of his generation.
Adams returned in a new series in 1971, THE PARTNERS, which, though slightly more serious than GET SMART, still had him playing a bumbling law-enforcement officer. This time he starred with Rupert Crosse, the two playing a pair of none-too-bright detectives. The show lasted one season. Except for the intriguing but unsuccessful DON ADAMS'S SCREEN TEST (a contest show in which Adams directed famous stars and amateurs in scenes from classic movies), he did not return to series television for fourteen years.
Instead he guest-starred on sitcoms, variety shows, and occasional TV movies. He played Las Vegas showrooms and nightclubs, though he grew increasingly reluctant to perform before live audiences. With the distinctive voice of his on-screen persona, he had long been active in voice-over work. Even during the GET SMART period he had been popular among children as the voice of the animated TENNESSE TUXEDO, and later was even more popular in his title role as INSPECTOR GADGET.
Divorced again, he married a third time in 1977 (to Judy Luciano). During this period, Adams starred in and directed a number of commercials, winning a CLIO Award for directing. In 1980, he reluctantly returned to the Maxwell Smart character in a feature film, THE NUDE BOMB, which he hated. He also brought the character briefly back to television in the 1989 TV movie GET SMART, AGAIN!
In 1985, he returned to series television in a Canadian sitcom, CHECK IT OUT, in which he played the manager of a supermarket. The show was popular enough to run for three seasons on American TV, but it mainly provided a paycheck for Adams and a co-starring role for a pre-NYPD BLUE Gordon Clapp.
In later years, he hoped for a chance at serious roles, of which he had done many in his early years in summer stock. But the opportunity never arrived. A role was actually written for him by his son-in-law for the revived ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS in 1986, but the producers feared he could not subsume his comedic persona, and the role went to Martin Landau.
Instead, he returned to the role that had made him world famous, in a third revival of Maxwell Smart. The 1995 series version of GET SMART featured Adams as Smart, now promoted to Chief of the secret agency CONTROL. Barbara Feldon also returned as his wife and colleague, but instead of the couple who had made television history, the show focused on the bumbling spy efforts of their son Zach Smart. Only seven episodes aired before the new show was cancelled.
Adams spent the remainder of his career doing commercials and voice work, mostly in new INSPECTOR GADGET productions. In 1999, he made a cameo voice appearance in the live-action INSPECTOR GADGET feature film starring Matthew Broderick as Gadget.
Like his brother, the late comedian Dick Yarmy, Adams was an inveterate horse-player. His leisure time was largely spent either at racetracks or in card games at the Playboy Mansion, and with pals such as Hugh Hefner, James Caan, and Don Rickles. Divorced for the third time, he lived alone in a luxury apartment in Century City. He was a devoted history buff, and was an amateur expert on the lives of Abraham Lincoln and Adolf Hitler. He was a talented poet and painter and had at one time considered a career as an artist.
His health declined in recent years with the onset of lymphoma, but took a precipitous turn for the worse following the death last year of his daughter, actress-casting director Cecily Adams. In recent weeks he had declined to continue medications or treatment for his ailments. Following his emergency hospitalization on September 24, he was unable to breathe on his own. As per his instructions, life-support systems were turned off Sunday night. Two of his former wives and three of his children, as well as other family members, were with him when he died.
Adams is survived by six of his seven children: Daughters Carolyn Steele (of Pahoa, Hawaii), Christine Adams (of Elkridge, Maryland), Cathy Metchik (of Henderson, Nevada), [Paramount TV executive] Stacey Adams, and Beige Adams, and son Sean Adams (all of Los Angeles); by five of his seven grandchildren (another is expected in November); and by three great-grandchildren.
There will be a private memorial service. Burial will be with Marine Corps honors at an undetermined location.
Memorial donations may be made to the Motion Picture & Television Fund, MPTF Foundation, 22212 Ventura Boulevard, Suite 300, Woodland Hills CA 91364.