The superhero world has been stung by the death of actor Van Williams, who died last Monday from renal failure at Scottsdale, Arizona; he was 82 years old.
Williams is best known as ABC’s “The Green Hornet”, the masked alter-ego of Britt Reid, the crusading owner and publisher of “The Daily Sentinel”. The series jump-kicked start the career of martial arts superstar Bruce Lee as Kato, the Hornet’s faithful kung-fu enforcer and driver of their “rolling arsenal” known as the Black Beauty.
But before he was protecting the rights and lives of decent citizens as the Hornet, Van Williams was already a crime-fighting heartthrob as private eye Kenny Madison on the short-lived “Bourbon Street Beat” (1959-60) and the more successful “Surfside 6” (1960-62). But it was “The Green Hornet” that gave Williams the most fan buzz alongside Lee, as they are both the hunters and the hunted. Wanted by the police and feared by the underworld, the Hornet and Kato are secretly on the side of justice: putting the sting on mobsters, corrupt police officers, amoral politicians, greedy businessmen, and so on.
Premiered on Friday, September 9, 1966, “The Green Hornet” joins “The Lone Ranger”, “Zorro”, and “Batman” as ABC’s masks of justice. Williams and Lee played the Hornet and Kato in a “window” cameo on “Batman”, as well as in the two-part crossover entitled “A Piece of the Action” and “Batman’s Satisfaction”. Despite the fact that Gotham City’s Batman & Robin (Adam West and Burt Ward) think of them as “criminals”, the names of the Green Hornet and Kato are legendary among fearless and heroic crime-fighters.
Not only that, the Green Hornet is the blood relative of the Lone Ranger, the daring and resourceful masked rider of the plains who led the fight for law and order in the early days of the American West. Though it lasted one season and 26 episodes, “The Green Hornet” continues to make a buzz over the years thanks to reruns in syndication and Bruce Lee, who went on to starred in films such as “Enter The Dragon” and “Way of the Dragon” before his mysterious death in 1973 at the age of 32.
After retiring the Hornet mask, Williams became a real-life superhero: first as a reserve deputy, then as a volunteer firefighter with the Malibu station of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.
He also made guest appearances on shows like “The Streets of San Francisco”, “Barnaby Jones”, and “The Rockford Files”. Williams also appeared in the 1993 film “Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story” starring Jason Scott Lee as Bruce Lee and Lauren Holly as his wife Linda.
Other than his wife Vicki, Williams is survived by his children Nina, Tia and Britt, and five grandchildren.