Michael K Williams. Credit: Shutterstock
Michael K Williams, who played Omar Little in the television series The Wire, died at the age of 54.
Williams' representative confirmed his death to the Hollywood Reporter, saying, "With deep grief, the family announces the demise of Emmy-nominated actor Michael Kenneth Williams." They request your privacy as they grieve this unfathomable loss.”
Williams, who was reported to have died at his home in New York, was best known for his role as Albert "Chalky" White in the HBO series Boardwalk Empire, which he played from 2010 to 2014. He was nominated for an Emmy earlier this year for his part as Montrose Freeman in Lovecraft Country, and he had previously acted in films such as 12 Years a Slave and Inherent Vice.
‘A new millennium Greek tragedy'... Season one of The Wire starred Michael B Jordan, Tray Chaney, Larry Gilliard Jr, and JD Williams.
In addition to Lovecraft Country, Williams received three Primetime Emmy nods for his work on HBO's The Night Of, the TV film Bessie, and Ava DuVernay's miniseries When They See Us.
Williams was praised by Isiah Whitlock Jr, who played Senator Davis on The Wire, as "one of the kindest brothers on the planet with the largest heart." An wonderful actor with a beautiful soul.” “The depth of my love for this brother can only be matched by the depth of my sadness learning of his loss,” Wendell Pierce, who played Detective Bunk Moreland on the series, stated. An incredibly gifted man with the ability to convey the human predicament via the lives of those whose humanity is rarely raised until he sings their truth.”
Williams was characterized as a "God damn genius, a black LGBT legend who challenged the concepts of black masculinity at a time when it wasn't easy, and a truly terrific person" by comedian Travon Free. “This is a great loss.” Williams had "a quiet intensity" and "extended the perception of what a same-gender loving guy looked like in the parts he performed," according to April Reign, the founder of the #oscarssowhite movement.
Williams began his career as a dancer, working with musicians such as George Michael, Missy Elliot, Ginuwine, and Madonna. He was born in Flatbush, Brooklyn, to a Bahamian mother and an American father. One of his first acting appearances was in the 1996 film Bullet, where he co-starred in with Tupac Shakur.
In 2018, he told the Associated Press, "I was upset and I had a lot of energy." “It was a wonderful outlet. I wasn't the finest dancer by a by shot, but I was unquestionably the most enthusiastic. I've always been a high-energy person. You could always tell if I was in sync with the other men or not.”
Williams gained mainstream notoriety for his role as Omar Little in the Baltimore-set crime thriller The Wire, which aired from 2002 to 2008. Williams personified an openly homosexual stickup man who had never been shown on television before, and who drew the attention of then-presidential candidate Barack Obama, who claimed Little was "not my favorite person" but "my favorite character in the series." For his role, he was nominated for the NAACP Image Awards twice.
Williams told the Guardian in 2015 that after the popularity of The Wire, he had struggled to adjust to life and had adopted the role of Omar "as a form of escape." I no longer use my job to define myself: it is what I do, not who I am. That's what I've realized now.”
Williams also contributed to Vice News reports, including a feature on incarceration in the United States. He'd also been collaborating with a New Jersey nonprofit on a project to make it easier for ex-prisoners to reintegrate into society.
As news of Williams' passing spread, members of the film business paid tribute to him on social media.
“Too sad right now to say all that ought to be said,” David Simon, creator of The Wire, said on Twitter. Michael was a wonderful man with a unique gift, and he always deserved the highest praise during our time together. And those words aren't coming today.”
Actor John Cusack described Williams as "an immensely amazing artist" who gave "among the greatest performances TV and film has ever seen" in his depiction of Omar Little.
“Michael K Williams had a wonderful, passionate, broad soul,” actress Aisha Tyler said. I myself myself fortunate to have known him, and we all counted ourselves fortunate to have witnessed his amazing brilliance. He shone like a diamond.”
Williams had recently finished filming 892 with John Boyega, and it was announced in August that he will play Charles "Doc" Broadus, George Foreman's coach, in an upcoming biopic of the former heavyweight boxing champion.
Elijah Williams, Williams' son, survives him.