The Legend of Kevin Conroy

Myself and Batman actor Kevin Conway in a picture taken at the Paley Center in 2010. We're both seated and smiling.
Jill Pantozzi and Kevin Conroy.

It’s absolutely destroying me to type these words: Kevin Conroy, my Batman, has passed away at the age of 66. He’s survived by his husband Vaughn C. Williams, sister Trisha Conroy, and brother Tom Conroy.

Conroy was everything. If you’re of a certain age, you most likely share my sentiments. Batman: The Animated Series debuted on September 5, 1992, and completely changed my life and the lives of so many others. Conroy is undoubtedly one of the reasons for…all this. (*gestures widely at The Nerdy Bird blog*). Sure, I’d seen Adam West as the Caped Crusader first, but there was something about Conroy’s voice-acting portrayal that connected with me. No matter who picked up the role on the big screen, no one could compare. My Batman inspired me to do the best I could every single day and never give up hope.

Conroy cemented his place in DC history early on and continued to voice Bruce Wayne/Batman in several other animated series, films, and video games. Then, in 2019, we were all blessed to finally see him step into the role in live-action. The CW’s Arrowverse crossover that year included an older, alternate Earth Batman who went down a very dark path. It was a brief but tremendous opportunity and Conroy completely ate it up.

Diane Pershing —the voice of Poison Ivy in BTAS—first posted about Conroy’s passing on her Facebook page. Warner Bros. later sent out a press release. “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 his longtime casting/dialogue director Andrea Romano. “Kevin’s warm heart, delightfully deep laugh and pure love of life will be with me forever.”

“Kevin brought a light with him everywhere,” said Paul Dini, producer of BTAS, “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.”

Truly, if you’ve never read about Conroy’s amazing life, I highly encourage you to take some time to do so (Just one example: His roommate at Julliard was Robin Williams!). Honestly, I thought I loved him before but when I learned more about him as an adult I was thrilled to find out that this person I admired so much was an incredible human being in real life as well as in animation.

Over the course of the last 14 years, I had the privilege to meet Conroy twice. Both were at Paley Center events to promote Warner Bros.’s latest DC animated films. In what is probably the most unprofessional moment of my career, I once asked him if he’d mind recording a voicemail greeting for me as Batman. I knew he must have gotten asked that about a thousand times in his life but he did it with a smile. The true professional he was, he made sure to have the pronunciation of my name correct before he recorded. It goes like this: “This is Batman. Jill Pantozzi can’t come to the phone right now, she’s in the Batcave helping me out.” I’m never changing it.

He was the night. He was Batman. He was Kevin Conroy.

Batman voice actor Kevin Conway looks at the camera while sitting in a recording booth. He's wearing headphones and has his script, a microphone, and a still of Batman from an animated film on a screen in front of him.
Kevin Conroy. Photo courtesy Warner Bros.

What follows is a reprinting of my interview with Conroy for The Mary Sue in 2012.

For many superhero fans, Kevin Conroy is THE Batman. Although he’s only ever voiced the character, he’s held onto the role for over twenty years now and has become synonymous with the caped crusader. At the premiere of the latest Warner Home Video feature, Justice League: Doom, we got a chance to speak with the seasoned actor about his long run with the character, how he sees Batman, and how voice acting for video games like Batman: Arkham City, is a lot harder than it would appear.

It’s easy to assume Conroy has been typecast as Batman. Starting with his time on Batman: The Animated Series, fans immediately believed he was the voice of the iconic character. It’s both helped and hindered the actor through the years.

“I assumed it would be a totally anonymous job, you would think it would be a totally anonymous job, but with the internet that’s just not the case anymore,” he said. “People stop me all the time and say, ‘We know you. Aren’t you Kevin Conroy?’ And I say well, ‘Have we met? Do I know you?’ and they’re, ‘You’re Batman!’ So it’s much less anonymous than you’d think. Much less anonymous than it was twenty years ago, doing animation voices.”

Conroy attended Juilliard in New York when he was just seventeen and has a great deal of classical experience. “So I had a pretty well-established career before the animation work so it hasn’t really been limiting,” he said. “In terms of voice work, it’s somewhat limiting because it’s such an identifiable role in terms of animation. It is harder to get other animation jobs.”

Because of his background, Conroy put a lot of thought into developing the voice originally. “[I] found the sound, not by imposing it on my throat,” he said, “by sort of getting into the head of the guy from an internal place, just getting to a dark, what I felt was a very painful place. That the pain was you. It’s not the kind of thing you can just click on and off.”

One thing the actor has to struggle with in his career though is those who want him to approach Batman differently. “Depending on the scriptwriter and depending on the director, they all bring their ideas. Invariably they say, ‘We want to try this, we want to try that’ and I always have to try and kind of nudge them a little bit and say, ‘You know, the audience is so loyal to this character they’ll know in a second if the sound isn’t genuine and if it’s not the sound of Batman, of who they know. So trust me on this, you’ve got to be true to the guy.’”

Conroy isn’t a regular comic book reader, rather, he enjoys historical novels, especially biographies. That hobby may have helped him to form his Batman as well. “Well, the way I’ve approached it is that Bruce is the performance. That was my first take on it, was that putting on the cape and the cowl isn’t putting on a costume. That’s where he feels the most comfortable and can be himself,” he said. “Putting on a costume for this guy is putting on a business suit and a tie and performing for Gotham City. That’s the performance. That’s how I’ve approached it and I think the audience picks up on that.”

While Batman tends to steal the show no matter what project he’s in, in Justice League: Doom, he’s the impetus for the entire story. Batman’s contingency plans for if/when any member of the League goes rogue are stolen by their enemies and the fact that he had them in the first place causes strife within the team.

Conroy appreciates that even though Batman is a hero, he’s not perfect. “I think what’s made Batman such an iconic role for so long, is the fact that he’s not a superhero, he’s human. And he has those two faces, the private face and the public face. The personal tragedy that he then uses to try and heal the world with but it’s always those two sides to him and people relate to that,” he said. “Everybody’s got a personal side and a public side, we all have a different face we present to the world. So people relate to that about Batman and in the Justice League, his being the only non-superhero, he’s always been the outsider.”

He continued, “I think everyone has a piece of the other in them, and in this episode or this movie, it’s really exaggerated, that situation because his being the only non-superhero, he’s thought of a way to…in case any of them ever got out of control, he had a way to neutralize them. And that ends up being a source of betrayal for them when he was trying to do the right thing, it ends up being used as a great source of evil.”

A lot of actors have voiced the Justice League over the years but Conroy has played Batman a majority of the time he’s been animated. Do other actors mind that he, in a sense, is hogging the role? “Well, they’re a little jealous. I get a lot of that actually. ‘We’re happy for you and we hate you.’ It was dumb luck, I mean it was also just an example of the right voice for the right character at the right time. It was just kismet,” he said.

Of course, in recent years, the actor has had much success in voicing Batman in Rocksteady’s Arkham Asylum/Arkham City video games. But unfortunately, it’s a much bigger job for Conroy than his work on the animated series or films, he says there’s no comparison.

“You’re alone in a booth like four-hour chunks of time, literally. Four hours in the morning, an hour for lunch, and four hours in the afternoon. Day after day after day after day. Just you,” he said. “Because think about it, as the game is played, depending on how it’s played, there’s hundreds of variables, thousands of variables the direction the character is going to go. You’re voicing for all of that. It’s really mind-numbing and you also don’t get the input from the other actors…When you’re alone you can’t do that so you’ve got to be self-motivating and you’ve got to keep the character alive and fresh and believable.”

Speaking of other actors, Conroy’s foil in both B:TAS and the video games is the Joker, voiced by Star Wars actor Mark Hamill. Hamill has said in recent years that he’d be retiring from the voice but would almost always return if Conroy was involved. We asked how Conroy feels about it.

“I can’t imagine it without him. And we work so well together,” Conroy said. “I wish that the audience could…because I know he has a huge and loyal following, and the audience does know how great he is, but if they could see him in the recording studio they would have 100 times more admiration for him because he’s a really talented actor and his whole body gets thrown into the performance. I mean, it looks like the guy’s gonna devour the microphone, he’s just so all over the studio. He’s a very exciting guy to work with, he’s a very creative, intelligent actor. Much more than the average actor.”

And what about his own retirement? Conroy doesn’t see it happening anytime soon. “[Laughs] I can’t see it but you know, there’s gonna be other people doing it I’m sure. Like the live-action movies they’ve had so many different actors doing them and it’s interesting to see how a different actor has a take on the role.

Conroy feels that Christian Bale is the best of the live-action Batman actors and that Heath Ledger’s Joker in the Dark Knight was “inspiring.”

Seeing as how Batman has been popular for 75 years, we wondered what the actor thought about the character’s future. Would he maintain that kind of popularity for another 75 and beyond?

“I don’t think there’s any question about that,” said Conroy. “I think there’s a timelessness about him that the writers really locked into a gold mine with this character. He’s the archetypical hero. Being tested by fire in his youth, overcoming tragedy, and using his life to conquer evil. It’s an archetype in literature and everyone relates to that, everyone wants to be a hero.”

He then related to us a story that was in the news not too long ago.

“There was an incident in New York, I think it was last year or the year before where a guy fainted and fell onto the subway track. And an everyday guy, just a guy standing on the platform had the presence of mind, not just to be brave enough to jump in and save the person, which I pray to god I would have the courage to do, this guy had the courage to jump in and lay down on top of the person in the bed of the tracks knowing, like Batman would know, that if you lay down, you’ll both be safe because you’ll be cleared by the trains,” he said. “Can you imagine the terror that any of us would feel to jump and lay down under a subway track to save a stranger’s life? I mean, when I heard this story I thought, ‘This guy’s Batman.’”

Conroy didn’t give us any hints as to his next animation work but says he’s been working on video games for the last few years and will be continuing that for a while.