TRIBUTE: Even if you don't instantly recognize the name, you no doubt recall the cigarette, the long coat and the shotgun -- or his character's motto: "It's all in the game, yo."
Actor Michael Kenneth Williams, best known for portraying the Robin Hood-like criminal Omar Little on the cable show "The Wire," was found dead Monday at his Brooklyn penthouse. He was 54.
“It is with deep sorrow that the family announces the passing of Emmy nominated actor Michael Kenneth Williams," a representative said. "They ask for your privacy while grieving this unsurmountable loss."
Tributes poured in as the news spread, few of them as touching as a Twitter thread from Wendell Pierce, the acclaimed actor who played detective Bunk Moreland on "The Wire."
"He shared with me his secret fears then stepped out into his acting with true courage, acting in the face of fear, not in the absence of it," a tweet from Pierce reads, in part. "It took me years to learn what Michael had in abundance."
There are few of those who enjoy crime dramas, or are interested in crime itself, who don't know the fictional scar-faced whistling anti-villain who roamed the streets of Baltimore robbing drug dealers and killing those who he said truly deserved it.
Through Williams, Omar delivered a host of iconic lines, which included:
- "You come at the king, you best not miss."
- "You got me confused with a man who repeats himself."
- "A man gotta have a code."
One of the most memorable of scenes involved Williams (as Omar) and Pierce (as Bunk) in a man-to-man exchange.
Williams brought similar gravitas and dignity to other characters, as well, including Chalky White from "Boardwalk Empire."
He most recently delivered a moving tribute to DMX at the BET Awards.
But Williams also battled demons, some of which had him doing drugs "in scary places with scary people" -- on the streets of Newark, Paterson and elsewhere -- at the same time that he starring in what was not only one of history's greatest crime procedurals but also one of America's most celebrated shows.
Williams spoke of those days on the street -- including how stumbling into a church in Irvington saved him -- during an intense in-depth interview, "The Redemption of Michael K. Williams" (NJ Advance Media).
A nephew found Williams around 2 p.m. Monday, the New York Post reported. He was officially pronounced dead at 2:12 p.m. of an apparent heroin overdose, according to law enforcement sources.
“No foul play indicated,” a source told the newspaper. “No forced entry, the apartment was in order.”
SEE: ‘The Wire’ actor Michael K. Williams found dead in NYC apartment (New York Post)
Born in Flatbush, of Bahamian and Afro-American descent, Williams got his first break after Tupac Shakur reportedly saw a photo and suggested he be cast beside him in the 1996 movie "Bullet."
It wasn't long before Williams broke big in 2002 as Omar in the first season of "The Wire," created and primarily written for HBO by author and former Baltimore Sun police reporter David Simon.
Earlier this year, Williams was nominated for a 2021 Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series for his role as Montrose Freeman on "Lovecraft Country."
There was hope that Williams would one day portray Miles Davis in a biopic, but that never materialized. He did have other notable roles in "12 Years A Slave" and "The Gambler."
“Shocked and saddened by the death of Michael K Williams,” tweeted actor Isiah Whitlock Jr., who played Maryland State Sen. Clay Davis “The Wire.” “One of the nicest brothers on the planet with the biggest heart. An amazing actor and soul. May you RIP. God bless.”
Williams "was a beautiful, passionate, expansive soul," actress Aisha Tyler tweeted. "I felt so lucky to have known him, and we were all so fortunate to have enjoyed his incredible talent. He burned so very bright. Rest in power, MKW. You will forever be The King."
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