by Tim Gordon
Michael K. Williams, who gained notoriety and critical acclaim for several signature roles was found dead in his apartment in Brooklyn. He was 54.
Williams began his career in entertainment as a dancer in the early 1990s, appearing in music videos for George Michael and Madonna; he even choreographed pop singer Crystal Waters’ video, “100% Pure Love. One of his first acting jobs was courtesy of Tupac Shakur, in the 1996 film, Bullet.
But Williams’ breakthrough would come unexpectantly in the HBO drug drama, The Wire. Playing a notorious Robin Hood-esque Baltimore stick-up character named Omar Little, Williams’ performance was an immediate hit. Sporting his trademark scar (the aftermath of getting his face sliced in a bar brawl at the age of 25), characteristic duster, under which he hides his shotgun, Williams’ Omar Little became the heart and soul of arguably one of the best-written dramas in television history.
He was showered with critical acclaim by media publications and even then-Senator Barack Obama who called Little his favorite character on the show. “That’s not an endorsement,” says Senator Obama. “He’s not my favorite person, but he’s a fascinating character… he’s the toughest, baddest guy on the show.”
HBO said in a statement, “We are devastated to learn of the passing of Michael Kenneth Williams, a member of the HBO family for more than 20 years. While the world is aware of his immense talents as an artist, we knew Michael as a dear friend who was beloved by all who had the privilege to work with him. We send our deepest condolences to his family for this immeasurable loss.”
After capitalizing on the opportunities that came his way after The Wire, Williams guest starred and appeared in a variety of television shows and series, including Alias, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, Boston Legal, The Sopranos, Law & Order and, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. Williams also co-starred in Gone, Baby, Gone, director Jeymes Samuels independent western, They Die by Dawn, Chris Rock’s I Think I Love My Wife, Williams starred in HBO’s Boardwalk Empire for its five seasons (2010–2014).
He returned to HBO and created another indelible character as Albert “Chalky” White, the leader of the 1920s’ Atlantic City’s black community in Boardwalk Empire. He was also acclaimed for his role as Jack Gee, husband of Bessie Smith, in the HBO telefilm biopic Bessie. He acted in supporting roles in a number of films and television series, including The Road, Inherent Vice, The Night Of, 12 Years a Slave, When We Rise, When They See Us, and Hap and Leonard.
“We are saddened, shocked, and stunned with the news of the passing of Michael K. Williams,” said Black Reel Awards founder and Executive Director Tim Gordon. “While his career was brief, Williams created so many memorable roles and his ability to slip in and out of such diverse roles was one of the reasons that audiences loved his work but could also relate to him no matter who he portrayed.”
A five-time Black Reel Award nominee, Williams won two awards for his supporting performances in both When They See Us and just a couple of weeks ago for Lovecraft Country. He also received five Primetime Emmy Award nominations: three for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Limited Series or Movie, one for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series (pending), and one for Outstanding Informational Series or Special.