Most people may remember Cesar Romero as the original Joker, the most infamous villain in Batman history, who is continually revived to this day. Romero was so legendary in this role that he was even added to TV Guide‘s 2013 list of The 60 Nastiest Villains of All Time.
But surely, he did a lot more in his career than just Batman, and we’re taking a look back at the life and career of Cesar Romero, reflecting on what he was up to until his death in January 1994 at the age of 86.
Whatever happened to Cesar Romero?
Romero first began acting way back in 1933, portraying Tony Rico in that year’s The Shadow Laughs. He became known for routinely portraying “Latin lovers” roles in films from the 1930s until the 1950s. Beyond that, he had the leading role in The Devil is a Woman (1935) and starred as the Cisco Kid in six westerns made between 1939 and 1941. Prior to the Joker, he had experience portraying villains such as in the 1934 film The Thin Man. Throughout his career he frequently found himself typecast as Italian gangsters and East Indian princes.
Of course, when the ’60s rolled around, it gave him the opportunity of a lifetime—the role he’s most known for to this day. In an interview at the time of the show’s debut, Romero explained that he had been contacted by producer, Bill Dozier, who told him he was doing Batman as a TV series. “Which didn’t mean anything to me; I’ve never followed the comic strip,” he noted. “He said, ‘I’d like you to play the Joker. come down to the studio and I’ll show you what we’re doing.’ The first episode they’d filmed had Frank Gorshin playing the Riddler. He ran it for me and it was wonderful. Then I read the script and I fell in love with the Joker. I thought he would be a wonderful character to play, so I did the show and thoroughly enjoyed it. It was a hoot.”
The Joker was Batman’s arch-enemy. His iconic Joker laugh was created almost by accident. He happened to see conceptual art of Joker’s costuming and thought it so absurdly loud he began laughing. A producer yelled back, “That’s it! that’s your Joker’s laugh!” He did it so much that he said his real laugh had begun to morph. Also, they were so determined to have Romero for the part, that when he refused to shave his mustache, they simply applied white makeup over it.
Other notable parts, of many, include Duke Santos in the original Ocean’s Eleven, and Peter Stavros on more than 50 episodes of Falcon Crest in the late ’80s. Of his private life, it was long-speculated that Romero was gay, never marrying or having children. And a 1996 book called Hollywood Gays, published after his death, alleged that Romero had come out in private interviews with the author.
The legendary Cesar Romero died in January 1994 at the age of 86. Both Jack Nicholson and Heath Ledger, two of the Jokers that came after Romero, have cited his brilliance as a springboard for their own Joker performance.