Don Adams of ‘Get Smart’ Dies at 82
Actor and Guadalcanal vet Don Adams, most famous for his role of Maxwell Smart in the 1960s spy movie spoof “Get Smart,” has died.
Don Adams, the wry-voiced comedian who starred as the fumbling secret agent Maxwell Smart in the 1960s television spoof of James Bond movies, “Get Smart,” has died. He was 82. Adams died of a lung infection late Sunday at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, his friend and former agent Bruce Tufeld said Monday, adding the actor broke his hip a year ago and had been in ill health since.
As the inept Agent 86 of the super-secret federal agency Control, Adams captured TV viewers with his antics in combatting the evil agents of Kaos. When his explanations failed to convince the villains or his boss, he tried another tack: “Would you believe … ?” It became a national catchphrase.
Adams, who had been under contract to NBC, was lukewarm about doing a spy spoof. When he learned that Mel Brooks and Buck Henry had written the pilot script, he accepted immediately. “Get Smart” debuted on NBC in September 1965 and scored No. 12 among the season’s most-watched series and No. 22 in its second season. “Get Smart” twice won the Emmy for best comedy series with three Emmys for Adams as comedy actor.
CBS picked up the show but the ratings fell off as the jokes seemed repetitive, and it was canceled after four seasons. The show lived on in syndication and a cartoon series. In 1995 Fox network revived the series with Smart as chief and 99 as a congresswoman. It lasted seven episodes.
Adams never had another showcase to display his comic talent. “It was a special show that became a cult classic of sorts, and I made a lot of money for it,” he remarked of “Get Smart” in a 1995 interview. “But it also hindered me career-wise because I was typed. The character was so strong, particularly because of that distinctive voice, that nobody could picture me in any other type of role.”
In 1941, he dropped out of school to join the Marines, lying about his age. In Guadalcanal he survived the deadly blackwater fever and was returned to the States to become a drill instructor, acquiring the clipped delivery that served him well as a comedian.
Few actors manage to break out of defining roles and Maxwell Smart was certainly that.
Update: Until checking his IMDB credits, I had forgotten that Adams was the voice of Tennessee Tudedo, one of my favorite cartoon characters in my youth. Oddly, I haven’t found that one in syndicated reruns, despite the fact that almost every show that was ever on anywhere seems to be shown somewhere these days.