Never meet your heroes.
You’re bound to be disappointed.
Isn’t that what we are told?
But years ago, while working for the Fishrag That Shall Not Be Named, I got the chance to interview Kevin Conroy.
Conroy was already a legend for giving us the best Batman ever.
Starting in 1992, he’d been the voice of the Dark Knight in “Batman: The Animated Series,” simply the greatest animated series of all time.
I don’t remember what he was pitching this time around, but I’d been a fan of his work since his early days on the CBS soap “Search for Tomorrow.” I had plenty of questions about his live-action roles in “Tour of Duty” and “Dynasty.”
On the ’80s nighttime soap, he played out-and-proud environmental activist Bart Fallmont, who fell in love with conflicted Steven Carrington (played by the horrible Jack Coleman).
For the early ’80s, that hug was hella daring. And let me just state the obvious: Kevin Conroy could get it in his day.
Conroy was unhappy about being forced to wear a bowtie for the role and rued how producer Aaron Spelling neutered his character.
No matter his live-action work, he recognized his claim to fame would always be playing Batman.
Conroy took that role damn seriously. He figured out something that seems to have eluded every live-action actor: Bruce Wayne is the disguise. Batman is the real persona.
As Bruce, Conroy gave his voice almost a musical lilt, a carefree tone that suggested a bored, naive playboy. As Batman, Conroy lowered his voice barely a notch but changed up the cadence.
He didn’t need any growls or auditory sweetener. It all came from the man.
Another distinction worth noting: Conroy’s Batman was driven, not deranged.
I wondered how much of a living you could make as a voice actor. Conroy chuckled and assured me that he had been doing it so long, he was doing all right.
Across 30 years, up until his death at 66 on Thursday, Conroy portrayed Batman in several acclaimed videogames, 15 animated series, and 15 direct-to-DVD animated films. (Every time DC issued a new Batman DVD, I would check the back for the credits. If Conroy wasn’t listed, I paused. What was the point?)
He even played a live-action Bruce Wayne in a 2019 “Batwoman” episode.
For the DC Comics Pride special this year, Conroy penned “Finding Batman,” his story of how he came to the role amid years of heartache in his family and homophobic abuse and discrimination in the entertainment industry.
He understood what would drive a man to hide his true self … “a mask of confidence to the world … and a private one racked by conflict and wounds.”
Oh, that he knew.
For many fans, this story was a revelation. They didn’t know that the man whose voice they heard in their own heads every time they opened a Batman comic book was gay.
Conroy was astonished by the outpouring of love.
His death just hurts. We live in an unprecedented Age of Super-Heroes on the big and small screen. Most of the actors are there for the paycheck.
Conroy captured the essence of comic literature’s most popular, complicated character, and he made it seem easy.
If there’s any comfort in his untimely passing, it’s this: He knew how much the fans cherished him, and he left a body of work that will be discovered for generations to come.
Kevin Conroy was our Batman for 30 years.
He’s forever our Batman.