Once you’re the Green Hornet, is there anything better you can be?
Van Williams, the actor who starred alongside Bruce Lee in the classic Green Hornet series between 1966 and 1967, did find something even more meaningful – he spent years as a volunteer firefighter, even living through some lingering injuries because of it.
And now the world must say good-bye to Williams, who died last week. He was 82.
Vicki Williams, his wife since 1959, shared nothing but love when talking to Variety 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.”
Van Zandt Jarvis Williams was born Feb. 27, 1934 in Fort Worth, Texas. However, a reported disagreement with his father over how the family’s ranch should be run sent him to Hawaii in his mid-20s where he would take on odd jobs that had nothing to do with acting, and catching the eye of Elizabeth Taylor’s then husband, producer Mike Todd.
Williams moved to Los Angeles, and immediately picked up roles, including as a star of Bourbon Street Beat as detective Ken Madison. The series was short-lived, but Williams would carry Madison over to a second series, Surfside 6 which aired on ABC until 1962.
When ABC decided it wanted to revive the old radio show The Green Hornet from the creators of The Lone Ranger, Williams was cast in the title role as Britt Reid. Kato, who was originally Japanese in the 1930s, but then changed because of changing political climates to a more “generic Asian” by the 1960s, was played by master martial artist Bruce Lee, and the two would become good friends.
Lee died in 1973.
Although Green Hornet would cross over with the popular Batman series of the time with Adam West, Williams avoided campiness and actually played his character “straight.” That would be different from the 2011 film adaptation where Seth Rogen played Britt Reid more as a comedic anti-hero.
The series lasted just a single season, and while Williams would pick up other acting jobs afterward, his career in Hollywood mostly faded by the end of the 1970s. That led him to become a reserve deputy sheriff and a volunteer firefighter in Los Angeles, according to Variety.
It was revealed in the late 1980s that Williams suffered bronchial problems and back injuries from his days working in the first responder capacity.
Williams turned down a chance to make a cameo in the 2011 remake, and just two weeks before his death, The Accountant director Gavin O’Connor announcing he would create a more straightforward reboot of Green Hornet – something Williams might have actually approved of.
Williams is survived by his wife, three children and five grandchildren.
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