Knightfall: Rest in Peace Kevin Conroy
The voice actor who brought Batman and Bruce Wayne to life over thirty years passed away at the age of 66 due to intestinal cancer
He was vengeance, he was the night, he was Batman. Kevin Conroy — the definite voice of the Dark Knight — passed away on November 10th at the age of 66 after a devastating battle with intestinal cancer at Mount Sinai Hospital, New York City.
Any fan of the Caped Crusader will recognize his voice instantly. He first appeared in Gotham City in the Batman: The Animated Series which premiered on September 5th, 1992. And here he first donned the cowl of Batman and he would continue to do so for the next three decades.
As the Dark Knight, his voice set the bar high for anyone else who played Batman, in film, in video games, in televison. He’s portrayed Batman/Bruce Wayne in just about every form of media – animation, video games and even live-action! In Batman’s eight-decade (and counting) crusade defending Gotham, Kevin Conroy holds the record for making the World’s Greatest Detective come to life. Starting with Batman: The Animated Series (1992-1996), he played Batman in 15 films, 400 episodes of 15 different animated series, two dozen video games (including the Arkham Trilogy) and appeared as Bruce Wayne (live-action) in the Crisis on Infinite Earths in the Arrowverse crossover event (2019-2020).
Conroy’s Batman was the introduction to the dark world of Gotham for many because of his prolific portrayals. Whether it was hearing it from the shadows of your television screen or while you yourself were descending on criminals from the rooftops of Gotham while playing a video game, he defined Batman for many a generation.
What made Kevin Conroy such an iconic Batman? We’d rather be asking, what makes his voice so deeply associated with Batman, which makes nearly all the fans of Batman (including myself) while reading the comics hear his voice whenever one comes across Batman’s/Bruce Wayne’s speech bubbles?
Perhaps it’s because Conroy was able to get into the skin of the character on a deeper level and feel his anguish and pain echoing his own.
Growing up in the Sixties as a gay boy with an Irish Catholic background in Connecticut, Conroy had it tough. To survive he had to learn how to wear a mask, conceal himself much like Batman does in the dark alleyways of Gotham. Life at home was difficult; his parents’ divorce, his father an alcoholic and his brother a schizophrenic. But a prestigious scholarship pulled him out of that quagmire and dropped him straight to New York City at Julliard School. His cohorts there included Robin Williams, who was his roommate and future Superman Christopher Reeves.
When he started his career, he discovered the supposedly liberal New York theater scene had a different standard when it came to gay actors. New York was where he learned to wear the mask that separated his personal life from his professional one.
Moving to L.A. in the Eighties in search of better opportunities, he still struggled to get the right break. Doing theater and some television productions, his career was not really going anywhere. A call from his agent changed all that in ’92. It was the assignment that would alter his life forever. Warner Brothers was going to produce an animated series featuring comic book vigilante Batman and they were looking for a voice actor for the part. The creative team who met him explained what they were looking for; a man whose childhood trauma scarred him forever. A man who donned a mask to protect his identity to survive in the dark world that is Gotham. A man who would dedicate himself to fight crime and injustice so that no one else would suffer the same fate that he did.
Listening to the brief it became clear to Conroy how best he could approach this. When he envisioned Bruce’s parents bleeding out in the grimy Crime Alley behind the Monarch Theatre, the picture that came to mind was one of his own father. As a young boy, Conroy himself had cradled his father in his arms in a hospital bed after his father was found bleeding in the woods with a self-inflicted knife wound.
So, when he spoke for the first time as Batman, the thirty years of his anguish, suffering, and loss that mirrored Bruce Wayne’s own all manifested itself as the voice we know today. A voice that can never be replaced.
Mark Hamill, who played the Clown Prince of Crime to Conroy’s Dark Knight, is on record saying that he would accept the role of the Joker without even looking at the script if he knew that Conroy was on board. With the passing of his on-screen nemesis, Mark Hamill said, “Kevin was a brilliant actor. For several generations, he has been the definitive Batman. It was one of those perfect scenarios where they got the exact right guy for the exact right part, and the world was better for it. His rhythms and subtleties, tones and delivery – that all also helped inform my performance. He was the ideal partner – it was such a complementary, creative experience. I couldn’t have done it without him. He will always be my Batman.”
Paul Dini, who was the producer of Batman: The Animated Series, said, “Kevin brought a light with him everywhere, whether in the recording booth giving it his all, or feeding first responders during 9/11, or making sure every fan who ever waited for him had a moment with their Batman. A hero in every sense of the word. Irreplaceable. Eternal.”
For all the Batman fans around the world, he is indeed eternal and irreplaceable.