The iconic Batman comic has made its way to screens big and small in several incarnations, and many fine actors have taken on the juicy role of the Joker. Jack Nicholson played the villain over the top in 1989, and Heath Ledger won a posthumous Oscar for his unhinged performance in 2008. Animated versions of the Joker have been voiced by Star Wars' Mark Hamill, Lost's Michael Emerson, Star Trek's Bret Spiner and more. But the very first actor to bring the Joker to life was Cesar Romero, who died Jan. 1, 1994.
Romero played the Joker in the very silly 1966 TV adaptation of Batman. For three seasons, as well as in the 1966 spinoff movie, Romero's Joker was the thorn in Batman's side, rolling his r's and giving the world the first taste of the insane prankster's laugh.
Thanks in part to Romero's portrayal, the Joker has become one of the world's most recognizable characters, almost as important in our pop culture as Batman himself. Each actor who plays the Joker gives us his own interpretation, and Romero's was no less iconic than Ledger's. His shocking pink tailcoat gave the Joker just the right air of weird formality to accompany his proper speech … and the actor’s refusal to shave his trademark mustache, simply allowing the makeup artists to smear white greasepaint over it, made his Joker all his own. So memorable was Romero's take on the Joker that TV Guide honored him as one of "The 60 Nastiest Villains of All Time."
Romero's career, of course, went far beyond laughing it up as the Joker. In more than 100 films, from the early 1930s through the late 1980s, he played romantic leads and dancing funnymen, Doc Holliday and Hernán Cortés, gangsters and princes and the heroic Cisco Kid. On TV he played Freddie Prinze's father on Chico and the Man, Count Dracula on Rod Serling's Night Gallery and a cruise-ship musician on The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour, among many more roles. But Romero's introduction of the Joker truly stands out, even all these years after his death. The laugh – along with everything about his Joker – was simply unforgettable.
Written by Linnea Crowther. Find her on Google+.