Van Williams, star of the 1966 TV show “The Green Hornet,” died last Monday in Scottsdale, Ariz., of renal failure. He was 82.
“He had a wonderful, caring, and kind heart,” his wife of 57 years, Vicki Williams, told Variety. “He was a wonderful husband, he was a fabulous father, and a devoted grandfather.”
Williams was a diving instructor in Hawaii when he was discovered in 1957 by producer Mike Todd, who was married to Elizabeth Taylor at the time. Williams was persuaded to come to Hollywood and try his hand at acting, and earned his big break on the ABC private detective show “Bourbon Street Beat.” He played Ken Madison, a character he later recycled for another detective show, “Surfside 6.”
In 1966, Williams signed a deal with 20th Century Fox to star in “The Green Hornet” as both the titular masked crusader and his newspaper editor alter ego, Britt Reid. He was ably supported by his martial arts master sidekick Kato, played by Bruce Lee, and by his weaponized car, Black Beauty. Williams played the role straight, signaling a departure from the lampoon comedy of Fox’s earlier “Batman” series.
Williams later appeared in iconic shows such as “The Beverly Hillbillies” and “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” as well as in the young adult-targeted “Westwind,” which centered around the adventures of the Andrews family who sailed around the world on a yacht.
After his acting career dropped off in the late 1970s, Williams became a reserve deputy sheriff and a volunteer fire fighter at the Malibu station of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.
Actress Pat Priest (“The Munsters”), Williams’ longtime friend and neighbor, said Williams was his mentor.
“We had many fun dinners around our dining room table,” Priest told Variety. “We laughed a lot and he was my mentor in helping me with memorabilia shows. He was very special. We saw him last year and we have wonderful memories.”
Producer Kevin Burns, who worked with Williams on a relaunch campaign for “Batman” and “Green Hornet” in 1989, told Variety that Williams had singed his lungs while working as a volunteer fire fighter, and suffered from bronchial problems and back injuries.
“Through it all he remained strong and rarely spoke of what he went through. He was a great guy and a class act all the way,” Burns said in his Facebook post.
Williams is survived by his wife; three children, Nina, Tia, and Britt; and five grandchildren.