Actor Michael K. Williams, who like drug thief Omar Little in “The Wire” created one of the most beloved and enduring characters in the age of television, has died.
Williams was found dead Monday afternoon by members of his family in his Brooklyn attic, New York City police said. He was 54 years old.
His death was being investigated as a possible drug overdose, the NYPD said. The coroner was investigating the cause of death.
Little, a “mugger” based on real Baltimore figures, was probably the most popular character among devoted fans of “The Wire,” the HBO show that ran from 2002 to 2008 and is constantly re-streamed.
Williams was also a ubiquitous character actor in other shows and movies for over two decades, creating another classic character as Chalky White on HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire” from 2010 to 2014, and appearing in the movies “12 Years a Slave” and “Assassin’s Credo.” He is nominated for an Emmy for his role on HBO’s “Lovecraft Country.” A victory at the Sept. 19 ceremony would be the first of four nominations.
As Little, he played a criminal with a strict moral code, known for preying on a reputation for brutality that wasn’t always real.
Williams, who had worked in small television roles and as a backup dancer for hip-hop acts before landing the role, had said that reputation began to cling to him in real life.
“The character of Omar pushed me into the limelight,” he told Stephen Colbert on “The Late Show” in 2016. “He had a very low self-esteem growing up, a great need to be accepted, a cheesy project guy. Then all of a sudden I think, Omar, me, I’m getting respect from people who probably would have taken my lunch money as a kid. “
With his cigarette smoke often floating in the dark, the character whistled the tune known to American children as “The Farmer in the Dell” and British children as “A Hunting We Will Go” to ominously announce his arrival.
And he spoke many of the show’s most memorable lines, including, “a man must have a code” and “everything in the game me, everything in the game.”
The character also made his way on television as an openly gay man whose sexuality was not central to his role.
Williams appeared on all five seasons of “The Wire” from 2002 to 2008, her character growing in prominence with each season.
Williams, instantly recognizable with a distinctive scar running across his face, said that most people who saw him on the street called him “Omar,” but that he never looked like the character.
“It could never be Omar,” he told Colbert with a smile. “He didn’t have the balls that guy had.”
His “Wire” co-stars, and many others, paid tribute to him on Monday afternoon.
“The depth of my love for this brother can only be matched by the depth of my grief upon learning of his loss,” Wendell Pierce, who played Detective William “Bunk” Moreland and had many memorable scenes with Williams, said on Twitter. “An immensely talented man with the ability to give voice to the human condition by portraying the lives of those whose humanity is rarely raised until he sings his truth.”
David Simon, who created the show and Williams’ character, said on Twitter that he was “too heartbroken right now to say all that should be said. Michael was a good man and a rare talent and in our journey together he always deserved the best words. And today those words will not come out. “
Isiah Whitlock Jr., who played the corrupt politician Clay Davis on “The Wire,” tweeted that Williams was “One of the nicest brothers on the planet with the biggest heart. An incredible actor and soul.”
Actor John Cusack tweeted that his portrayal of Little was “among the best performances television and film have ever seen.”
Williams was born in 1966 in Brooklyn, the son of a mother from Nassau, Bahamas, and a father from South Carolina. He was raised in the Vanderveer Projects in East Flatbush, Brooklyn, and attended George Westinghouse Career and Technical Education High School.
His first forays into entertainment were as a dancer for artists like Missy Elliot, Ginuwine, Crystal Waters, and Technotronic.
“I was angry and had a lot of energy,” he told The Associated Press in 2018. “It was a great outing. He wasn’t the best dancer, you know, by far, but he was definitely the most passionate. I always had this energy. You always felt me. regardless of whether or not he was in sync with the other guys. “
Williams had been working with a New Jersey charity to facilitate travel for former inmates seeking re-entry into society and was working on a documentary on the subject.
He spoke in a 2020 Associated Press story about his difficult time growing up, and said he had battled drug addiction, which he had spoken candidly about in interviews in recent years.
“This Hollywood thing you see me in, I’m just passing through,” he said. “Because I think this is where my passion, my purpose is supposed to be.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism