The Hollywood community is in mourning once again, as another beloved actor has died. Van Williams, who portrayed the title character in the 1960s TV series The Green Hornet, passed away last Monday, November 28, at the age of 82. The actor's death was due to kidney failure. Here's what his wife of 57 years, Vicki Williams, had to say in a statement about her husband's passing.
"He had a wonderful, caring, and kind heart. He was a wonderful husband, he was a fabulous father, and a devoted grandfather."
Variety first reported on the actor's death earlier today. Van Williams was born on February 27, 1934 in Fort Worth, Texas, the son of a cattle rancher. He studied both animal husbandry and business at Texas Christian University, but he ended up moving to Hawaii, where he was working for a salvage company and as a dive instructor, when he was discovered in 1957 by producer Mike Todd, a producer who was then married to Elizabeth Taylor. The producer encouraged him to come out to Hollywood and pursue acting, and although Mike Todd died in a plane crash before he could help start Van Williams' career, he continued on anyway, and quickly started landing TV roles.
After landing small roles on General Electric Theater, Lawman and Colt .45 in 1959, he was cast as privte eye Kenny Madison on Bourbon Street Beat, which only lasted for one season. However, Warner Bros. decided to transfer his character over to their more popular TV series Surfside 6, where he starred in 69 episodes alongside Troy Donahue. He next starred in The Tycoon, a comedy series where he starred alongside Walter Brennan. When his contract at Warner Bros. expired, he moved over to 20th Century Fox, where he landed the role he's most well-known for, Britt Reid, a.k.a. The Green Hornet.
Van Williams starred in The Green Hornet alongside his friend and martial arts instructor, Bruce Lee, who played Britt Reid's sidekick, Kato. The show only ran for one season between 1966 and 1967, but both Van Williams and Bruce Lee appeared in three episodes of the original Batman TV series, alongside Adam West and Burt Ward's Batman and Robin. After The Green Hornet was taken off the air, Van Williams appeared in a number of guest starring spots on TV shows like The Big Valley, Mannix, Love, American Style, Nanny and the Professor, Ironside, Mission: Impossible, Apple's Way and Gunsmoke.
His last shot at a hit TV show was the 1975 show Westwind, although that only lasted one 13-episode season. He would go on to guest star in episodes of The Manhunter, The Runaways, Bert D'Angelo/Superstar, The Streets of San Francisco, Barnaby Jones, The Red Hand Gang, How the West Was Won, Mrs. Colombo and The Rockford Files. He returned to acting briefly to play a Green Hornet director in the 1993 movie Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story, but that was his last acting appearance. He would go on to be quite successful in other business ventures, and he also served as a reserve deputy sheriff and a volunteer fire fighter at the Malibu station of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. Producer Ken Burns, who worked with the actor on a re-launch campaign for Batman and Green Hornet in 1989, said that Van Williams told him he had singed his lungs while working as a volunteer fire fighter, and he also suffered from bronchial problems and back injuries.Van Williams is survived by his wife; three children, Nina, Tia, and Britt; and five grandchildren.