clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile
Voice actor Kevin Conroy speaks on stage during the Batman Beyond 20th Anniversary at New York Comic Con 2019 Photo: Craig Barritt/Getty Images for ReedPOP

Filed under:

Kevin Conroy, voice of Batman to a generation, dies at 66

The actor appeared as Batman in more than 100 hours of TV, a dozen movies, and blockbuster video games

Susana Polo is an entertainment editor at Polygon, specializing in pop culture and genre fare, with a primary expertise in comic books. Previously, she founded The Mary Sue.

Kevin Conroy, voice of Batman in Batman: The Animated Series, innumerable animated productions, as well as the Arkham and Injustice video game franchises, has died at age 66.

Fellow voice actor Diane Pershing, who voiced Poison Ivy on B:TAS, first shared the news on her Facebook page, writing “Our beloved voice of Batman, Kevin Conroy, died yesterday. He’s been ill for a while but he really put in a lot of time at the cons, to the joy of all of his fans. He will be sorely missed not just by the cast of the series but by his legion of fans all over the world.”

DC Animation publicity confirmed Conroy’s death in a news release.

Conroy studied acting at Juilliard alongside his roommate, comedian Robin Williams, and near-roommate, actor Christopher Reeve. He began his career in the New York theater scene of the 1980s before breaking into television in soap-opera roles and recurring and guest appearances on series like Dynasty, Cheers, and Matlock.

According to Conroy’s own writing, he was in his 30s when his voiceover agent connected him with the production behind Batman: The Animated Series and legendary casting director Andrea Romano. The 1992 series came to define Conroy’s career in an era when animated TV superhero adventures came far, far more frequently than any live-action production. That dynamic made him the most familiar (and regularly appearing) actor behind Batman for a decade.

“Kevin was far more than an actor whom I had the pleasure of casting and directing,” Romano said in DC Animation’s news release, “he was a dear friend for 30+ years whose kindness and generous spirit knew no boundaries.”

Conroy’s performance as Batman was rivaled only by Mark Hamill’s turn as the character’s nemesis, the Joker. Better known for his iconic live-action role as Luke Skywalker in the Star Wars franchise, Hamill once told Rotten Tomatoes, “When they offer me [Joker] roles now, I say, ‘Is Kevin doing it?’ […] I don’t even have to read the script, if Kevin’s doing it I’ll do it.”

Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill sit across from each other on a panel stage, chatting.
Conroy and Hamill at Fan Expo Canada in 2016.
Photo: Isaiah Trickey/FilmMagic

“Kevin was perfection,” Hamill said in DC Animation’s news release. “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.”

After Batman: The Animated Series, its softly relaunched sequel series The New Adventures of Batman, and its lauded feature-length film, Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, Conroy continued his time with the character on B:TAS spinoffs like Batman Beyond and Justice League Unlimited, as well as the DC Universe Animated Original Movies line. He voiced his signature superhero over 15 films in all, 15 different animated shows, and “two dozen video games,” according to DC Animation — most notably the Arkham franchise, which broke a legendary streak of terrible comic-book-to-video-game adaptations.

Conroy made his only appearance as a live-action version of Batman in 2019, playing an older version of Bruce Wayne in the CW’s Crisis on Infinite Earths event.

To many who grew up watching the groundbreaking, highly influential Batman: The Animated Series, the sound of Conroy’s voice is inseparable from the character of Batman. A dozen Batman and Bruce Wayne actors later, Conroy’s performance is still distinguished by its realism and restraint, something he was known to chide film actors like Christian Bale over. It’s often pointed out that he had two distinct modes as Batman, both of which are simple variations on his natural speaking voice. His Bruce Wayne baritone was lush and light, to contrast with his dropped-register Batman, which came with just a hint of a growl. What’s less remarked upon is that he actually had a middle register in the performance as well: The difference between Batman with his cowl on, Batman with his cowl off in private, and Bruce Wayne in public. (Not to mention the voice he developed for his co-lead role as elderly Bruce Wayne in Batman Beyond.)

Conroy’s performance is legendary, but it’s less well known that his performance came directly from his experience as a gay man facing Hollywood adversity. In DC Comics’ DC Pride 2022 anthology issue, Conroy penned a nine-page memoir of his career prior to landing the role of Batman, drawn by artist J. Bone. With heartbreaking precision, the story details Conroy’s determination to achieve dreams of love and creative fulfillment, in spite of the setbacks of individual and systemic bigotry — set over the background of a deadly, ignored pandemic decimating his friends and colleagues.

Kevin Conroy and friends sit by the hospice bed of a friend in the final stages of AIDS. Narration boxes explain that they are easing him through dementia by pretending that they are rehearsing a play he wrote about being gay and living with AIDS in Hollywood, in DC Pride 2022. Image: Kevin Conroy, J. Bone/DC Comics

“They talked me through the character,” he writes in the comic, of his Batman: The Animated Series audition. “Explained how young Bruce Wayne had seen his parents murdered in front of him in Crime Alley. How he had formed dual personalities to deal with the agony of his childhood. A mask of confidence to the world, and a private one racked by conflict and wounds. Could I relate to that, they asked.”

“Yes, I can relate.”

Kevin Conroy describes how he imagined feeling as disoriented and lost, identityless, while getting into the head of Bruce Wayne to invent his voice. “Yes, I can relate,” his narration reads, “Yes, this terrain I know well.” in DC Pride 2022. Image: Kevin Conroy, J. Bone/DC Comics

Conroy is survived by his sister, Trisha Conroy, his brother, Tom Conroy, and his husband, Vaughn C. Williams.

Update: DC Comics has made the entirety of DC Pride 2022, containing Conroy’s story “Finding Batman,” available free, for all to read. “DC is deeply saddened at the passing of the legendary actor, and the voice of Batman for legions of fans, Kevin Conroy,” the publisher said in a statement. “He will be forever missed.”