According to The Hollywood Reporter, actor Van Williams died last week from kidney failure. Though he appeared in a bunch of TV shows throughout the ‘60s and ‘70s, Williams is best known for starring in the short-lived Green Hornet TV series as Britt Reid, the Green Hornet himself. Williams was 82.
Born in Texas in 1934, Williams moved away from home in his 20s and was eventually discovered by producer Michael Todd, who told him he should give acting a try. Some of his first roles were part of General Electric Theater, which was hosted by a guy named Ronald Reagan, but his big break came in 1960 when he joined the cast of the ABC detective show Bourbon Street Beat. When that show ended, the network recycled his character for Surfside 6, which ran for a few more seasons.
Williams had small roles in other shows that were big at the time, including The Beverly Hillbillies and The Dick Van Dyke Show, and his iconic appearance on The Green Hornet came in 1966. Williams appeared alongside Bruce Lee—who hadn’t become famous in the United States yet—and though the series only lasted 26 episodes, it made a surprisingly big impact on popular culture. Part of that has to do with the show’s tenuous connection to the wildly popular Batman TV series that aired at the same time, with the two shows occasionally acknowledging each other’s existence (plus one crossover two-parter that THR says was “much-hyped”).
However, the superhero fad faded quickly, and Williams returned to mostly doing bit parts in other TV shows. Post-Green Hornet, he appeared on Mission: Impossible, Ironside, Barnaby Jones, and The Rockford Files. By the ‘70s, Williams had begun to turn his back on acting, with THR quoting him as saying that he “didn’t really care that much for the acting business” and had grown sick of the “phoniness and back-stabbing.” Apparently, Seth Rogen and the other filmmakers behind the 2011 Green Hornet movie tried to convince him to do a cameo, but his wife says he “wanted nothing to do with that movie.”
Williams is survived by his wife and three daughters.