Don Adams, a television comedian best known for playing a clumsy secret agent on the spy parody “Get Smart” in the 1960s, passed away on September 25 at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles at the age of 82. Adams was known for his role on the show. He was suffering from lymphoma as well as a lung infection.
Mr. Adams’ performance as Agent 86, Maxwell Smart, for which he won three Emmy Awards, was based on a character developed by Mel Brooks and Buck Henry. After they had finished writing all of the episodes for the program, Mr. Adams began contributing scripts and directing episodes. The program aired from 1965 until 1970, initially on NBC and then on CBS for its last year.
Barbara Feldon portrayed Agent 99, a gorgeous and uptight coworker of Smarts at the fictitious United States intelligence agency known as CONTROL. Smart worked alongside Agent 99. Together, they fought the agents of their archenemy, KAOS, while also making their employer, “the Chief” (Edward Platt), angry.
Smart’s instruments of spycraft were a series of jokey inventions, such as the shoe phone he held to his ear to answer incoming calls. This contrasts with the array of terminal devices that James Bond had at his disposal.
Mr. Adams delivered Smart’s signature line, “Sorry about that, Chief,” whenever the character made a mistake, and “Would you believe…” whenever he got into trouble, using a voice that was once described as having a nasal staccato. Mr. Adams had a distinctive voice once described as a nasal staccato.
Smart attempted to pass himself off as a music guru during one particularly memorable encounter.
Mr. Adams struggled to break out of his stereotype and successfully convince people that his off-screen voice was lower in range than Maxwell Smarts’. He expressed a desire to be in a play, but his attempts were unsuccessful.
In the 1980 film “The Nude Bomb,” which was about a fashion designer who threatens to destroy people’s clothing, he portrayed the role of Maxwell Smart. He also reprised the role of Maxwell Smart in the 1995 Fox TV reboot of “Get Smart,” which lasted for seven episodes.
In addition, he provided the voice of the main character in the animated series “Inspector Gadget,” which aired in the 1980s. On the other hand, Mr. Adams asserted that he “I was never able to see one of them. They were broadcast on Saturday mornings at 8:00 a.m. If the Second Coming were to occur at eight in the morning, I would not wake up.”
On April 13, 1923, Mr. Adams was born under the name Donald James Yarmy in New York. His father, who was of Hungarian heritage and operated restaurants, also ruled over a boisterous and overlapping conversation-filled household.
Mr. Adams claimed that he had little interest in attending school (he called himself “the great truant of my day”) and spent most of his time at the movie theaters on 42nd Street. When asked about his education, he told the Saturday Evening Post, “I have the fundamentals: divide, and subtract.”
After the United States entered World War II, he joined the Marine Corps and took part in the invasion of Guadalcanal, which was located in the Pacific. He became ill with blackwater fever and was admitted to a Navy hospital in Wellington, New Zealand, where he remained for more than a year receiving treatment.
After he was discharged from the military, he went to Florida and hung out on the beaches there. Eventually, he formed a duo with a friend to perform impressions of famous actors and actresses. Their early performances were at strip joints, which he referred to as “the bathrooms of the world.” There, he shared the stage with a variety of acts, including a woman whose clothes were torn off by birds.
Because Mr. Adams refused to use the “blue” material, he was terminated from his position. Working as a commercial artist allowed him to provide for his growing family, consisting of four daughters born to him and his first wife, a nightclub singer.
In 1954, he formed a friendship with comedian and writer Bill Dana, who was most known for his character of the bellhop Jose Jimenez. Together, they worked to improve Mr. Adams’ quips and stage demeanor for his several appearances on television. One of their favorite parts was when Mr. Adams did an impression of William Powell, a suave cinematic detective, saying things like, “There’s your man, Inspector.”
Between 1963 and 1965, he appeared on “The Bill Dana Show” in several different incarnations, including one in which he portrayed an inept house investigator. During that same period, he was also known for providing the voice of the penguin cartoon character Tennessee Tuxedo.
At first, Mr. Adams was reluctant to accept the opportunity to participate in “Get Smart.” He inquired calmly as to who was writing the program, and when he learned that Brooks and Henry were responsible, he remarked, “I’ll do it now. This very moment.”
After four years on the show, he revealed to the New York Times that he could sometimes be irascible: “I detest being in the spotlight. For me, doing so has never been about anything other than gaining experience working in the entertainment industry behind the scenes.”
During that time, he was the proprietor of an advertising business and supervised younger comedic talent. He also appeared frequently in commercials that were broadcast on television, and he once told a reporter, “I’ve pushed everything from toys to beer.”
During the 1970s, Mr. Adams was also involved in other shows that did not last very long. Gambling at the horse track, playing card games at the Playboy Mansion and reading extensively about Abraham Lincoln and Adolf Hitler were among the things he enjoyed doing in his leisure time.
A divorce followed each of his marriages to Adelaide Efantis Adams, Dorothy Bracken Adams, and Judy Luciano. Cecily Adams, a daughter from his first marriage, passed away in 2004.
Carolyn Steel of Pahoa, Hawaii, Christine Adams of Elkridge, and Cathy Metchik of Henderson, Nevada, are his three daughters from his first marriage. He is also survived by two children from his second marriage, Stacey Adams and Sean Adams, both of Los Angeles; a daughter from his third marriage, Beige Adams of Los Angeles; a sister; five grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.
In recognition of his performance as Maxwell Smart in the comedic television series “Get Smart,” Don Adams was awarded three Emmys.