Michael K. Williams, who played one of the most beloved and enduring characters of the rogue robber of drug dealers Omar Little in a prime era of television in the TV series “The Wire,” was found dead in his New York apartment on Monday, the New York Police Department said. He was 54.
Michael K. Williams, ‘Wire’ actor, found dead at 54 in NYC apartment:
Horrible, sad, and unbelievable to think we’ve lost the fantastically talented Michael K. Williams at the age of 54.
— Stephen King (@StephenKing) September 6, 2021
His first forays into entertainment were as a dancer for artists including Missy Elliot, Ginuwine, Crystal Waters and Technotronic.
“I was angry and I had a lot of energy,” he told The Associated Press in 2018. “It was such an outlet. I was not the best dancer, you know, by far, but I was definitely the most passionate. I always had this energy. You always felt me whether I was in sync or not with the other guys.”
Lieutenant John Gimpel, an NYPD spokesman, said Williams was found dead Monday afternoon by family members in his Brooklyn apartment after a 2 p.m. (1800 GMT) emergency phone call to emergency operators.
He spoke many of the show’s most memorable lines, including, “a man gotta have a code” and “all in the game yo, all in the game.”
Instantly recognizable with a distinctive scar that ran the length of his face, Williams said most people who saw him on the street called him “Omar,” but he never really resembled the character.
“The character of Omar thrust me into the limelight,” he told Stephen Colbert on “The Late Show” in 2016. “I had very low self-esteem growing up, a high need to be accepted, a corny kid from the projects. So all of a sudden, I’m like, Omar, yo, I’m getting respect from people who probably would have taken my lunch money as a kid.”
“I could never be Omar,” he told Colbert with a laugh. “I didn’t have the balls that dude had.”
The character also broke TV ground as an openly gay man whose sexuality wasn’t central to his role.
Williams appeared in all five seasons of “The Wire” from 2002 to 2008, his character growing in prominence with each season.
“This Hollywood thing that you see me in, I’m passing through,” he said. “Because I believe this is where my passion, my purpose is supposed to be.”
Little, a “stick-up boy” based on real figures from Baltimore, was probably the most popular character among the devoted fans of “The Wire,” the HBO show that ran from 2002 to 2008 and is re-watched constantly in streaming.
As Little, he played a criminal with a strict moral code, known for taking advantage of a reputation for brutality that wasn’t always real.
Michael K Williams arrives for the premiere of “The Public” at the New York Public Library in New York, U.S., on April 1, 2019.
He is up for an Emmy for his role in HBO’s “Lovecraft Country.” A win at the Sept. 19 ceremony would be his first in four nominations.
Williams was also a ubiquitous character actor in other shows and films for more than two decades, creating another classic character as Chalky White in HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire” from 2010 to 2014, and appearing in the films “12 Years a Slave” and “Assassin’s Creed.”
Williams, who received a 2021 Emmy nomination for his performance in HBO’s Lovecraft Country, also found fame for his role in the HBO series Boardwalk Empire.
Williams, who had worked in tiny TV roles and as a backup dancer for hip-hop acts before landing the role, had said that reputation started to stick to him in real life.
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 went to George Westinghouse Career and Technical Education High School.
Williams had been working with a New Jersey charity to smooth the journey for former prison inmates seeking to reenter society and was working on a documentary on the subject.
He spoke in an Associated Press story in 2020 of his rough time growing up and said he had struggled with drug addiction, which he had spoken frankly about in interviews in recent years.
The NYPD said there was an “ongoing investigation” into Williams’s death and that the New York City medical examiner will determine the cause of death at a later time.
His death was being investigated as a possible drug overdose, the NYPD said. The medical examiner was investigating the cause of death.
His “Wire” co-stars, and many others, paid him tribute Monday afternoon.
Michael K. Williams Tribute to DMX at the 2021 BET Awards. Rip to both legends ❤️🙏 pic.twitter.com/qt1dSTNLYP
— DatPiff (@DatPiff) September 7, 2021
We’re heartbroken to hear that truly singular performer Michael K. Williams has passed away.
We’re remembering him and his galvanizing spirit by revisiting his trip to our films closet back in March 2011. ❤️ pic.twitter.com/c3MWIVMPgN
— Criterion Collection (@Criterion) September 7, 2021
A few yrs ago, I contacted Michael K Williams to be on our podcast to talk about his work on Battlefield 4. Michael didn’t ask about our stats or anything, no PR or agent. He was just so genuinely excited about the project. He truly loved what he did.
RIP Michael K Williams. pic.twitter.com/vrNwouq1KA
— Danny Peña (@godfree) September 7, 2021
— MichaelRapaport (@MichaelRapaport) September 7, 2021