Kevin Conroy, the prolific voice actor who defined Batman for generations of audiences, has died. He was 66. The actor passed away Thursday, Warner Bros. announced, after a short battle with cancer.
Conroy voice starred in the acclaimed Batman: The Animated Series from 1992-96, and continued on with the role through nearly 60 different productions spanning 15 films and 400 episodes of television as well as video games.
Conroy was born Nov. 30, 1955 in Westbury, New York, and grew up in in Westport, Connecticut. He studied acting at Julliard alongside noteworthy actors such as Christopher Reeve and was roommates with Robin Williams. He went on to pursie work on stage before landing roles in the 1980s on TV series such as Dynasty, Tour of Duty and Ohara. He also appeared on soaps Search for Tomorrow and Another World and had guest spots on Cheers, Murphy Brown, Spenser: For Hire and Matlock.
The year was 1991. Kevin Conroy, a Juilliard-trained Broadway actor, was about to audition — reluctantly — for the role. He was no comic geek, having been raised in a strict, traditional Irish-Catholic family outside New York City, where recreational activities were more likely to include baseball and jigging with his Gaelic-speaking Grandma. Producers gave him a crash-course in the Batman storyline before having him read the script. “As soon as they described his schizophrenic lifestyle, it bugged me,” Conroy says. “I thought, Wait a minute, he is the Bill Gates of Gotham. He is the most eligible bachelor. Everyone knows who he is. And he puts on a cape, and no one recognizes him? Come on.” In the five minutes he had to prepare, Conroy decided to give the superhero a new dual-voiced reading — the naïve scion’s lilt and his alter-ego’s deep growl — fundamentally altering the legacy of a comic book he had only passing knowledge of. Now imagine if Bruce Wayne and Batman had exactly the same speaking voice. It seems wrong. For that, the world has Kevin Conroy to thank.
But by 1992, Tim Burton had brought Batman back to life. His first two movies were effective, and Warner Bros. was keen to build on leveraging that demand with Batman: The Animated Series, which originally aired in primetime on Fox, paid for with twice the typical budget for an animated show of its kind. The extra monetary love showed in the results, and the Bruce Timm led show would become a hit. But this was a darker and more grownup Batman. And the studio needed a voice for him.
Since this was voice acting, Conroy focused on what the voice of the Dark Knight should be like. Previous incarnations of Batman, both animated and live action, made do with one voice and a costume change. Conroy felt differently, and used his trick to shade in some psychological background: “If he sounds that different, where does the voice come from? It has to come from the pain,” Conroy says. “I decided that the Bruce Wayne persona, the public persona, is the performance, and the Batman character is who he is when he is most natural. When he’s putting on the cape, he is becoming himself.” Everyone’s got issues.
“The Batman voice was the voice you’ve heard. But the Bruce Wayne voice was a high, light, playboy voice with a lot of irony and humor in it,” he said in an interview. “As the studio finished the animation, they realized the show was so dark that Bruce Wayne’s light sound was jarring.” The studio realized they needed Conroy to rerecord the first five or six episodes to make that transition more subtle, and that was the balance he used for every incarnation of Batman in games and animation since.
Remembering Kevin Conroy
“Kevin was far more than an actor whom I had the pleasure of casting and directing – he was a dear friend for 30+ years whose kindness and generous spirit knew no boundaries,” said casting and dialogue director Andrea Romano. “Kevin’s warm heart, delightfully deep laugh and pure love of life will be with me forever.”
“Kevin was perfection,” recalled Mark Hamill, the voice of the Joker to Conroy’s Dark Knight. “He was one of my favorite people on the planet, and I loved him like a brother. He truly cared for the people around him – his decency shone through everything he did. Every time I saw him or spoke with him, my spirits were elevated.”
In 1992 the trajectory of his life and career changed forever when Batman: The Animated Series debuted on Sept. 5.
“I remember Mark and I were at the WB sound studio to do ADR work and we got to watch the opening credits,” Conroy told The Hollywood Reporter in 2017. “We hear the opening theme with the strings and the lush colors. It was incredibly dramatic. And I looked at Mark and said, ‘Did you have a clue this is what we were doing?’ He said, ‘No, I’m blown away!’ We both felt we were a part of something really special.”
The series still resonated 30 years later. There were even talks in progress between J.J. Abrams and The Batman filmmaker Matt Reeves teaming up with Batman: The Animated Series’ Bruce Timm for a new take called The Caped Crusader, though it is unknown if Conroy was going to be involved.
When the live action DC universe needed a version of Batman in 2019 for the CW’s Crisis on Infinite EarthsThough Conroy was known for animation, he stepped into the live-action DC universe in 2019 to play Bruce Wayne in the CW’s “Crisis on Infinite Earths” crossover story. He most recently voiced Batman in the video game MultiVersus.
Over the decades, multiple actors have portrayed the Caped Crusader, but of all of them, Kevin Conroy’s voice has defined the sound of Batman and defined his legacy as an actor.
Gotham sleeps safe tonight. Rest well, Mr. Conroy. You’ve earned it.
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RIP to a fine voice actor.
Batman has changed so many times over the years.