(Photo Credits: GabboT, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons)
Acclaimed actor Michael Kenneth Williams, best-known for playing the gay character Omar Little on HBO’s TV series called The Wire, passed away this Monday. He was 54.
The New York Police Department (NYPD) said he was found dead in his New York apartment following a 2 p.m. emergency phone call to emergency operators. Though the cause of his death is not yet known, NYPD is investigating his death as a possible drug overdose as investigators reportedly found drug paraphernalia near his body.
From 'The Wire' to 'Lovecraft Country,' revisit the actor's career timeline: https://t.co/9FmYPlYdvE— VANITY FAIR (@VanityFair) September 7, 2021
Williams’ longtime rep, Marianna Shafran of Shafran PR, confirmed the sad news to The Hollywood Reporter. Shafran said, “It is with deep sorrow that the family announces the passing of Emmy-nominated actor Michael Kenneth Williams. They ask for your privacy while grieving this insurmountable loss.”
Meanwhile, HBO released a statement regarding the actor’s passing. It reads:
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.
Apart from his gay character Omar Little in The Wire, Williams played the role as well of the racketeer Chalky White on the HBO television series Boardwalk Empire which ran from 2010 to 2014. He was also the inmate Freddy Knight on HBO’s 2016 American eight-part crime drama television miniseries called The Night Of.
Fans remember Williams the most for his groundbreaking gay character Omar Little. Little was unapologetically gay during a time when there was barely a gay character on TV. His character dared to kiss men onscreen and in return he was called repulsive, that the kiss (specifically the one he shared with Dante [Ernest Waddell] in season two) was “morally outrageous.” Or at least this was according to DJ Sway Calloway who said this during an interview with Williams on the New York radio show Hot 97.
But Williams was undeterred. He reportedly felt instead, that it was “a job well done,” says Pink News.
“It is my job to get emotion and controversy, you know, possibly a little change,” Williams told After Elton in an interview. “So the fact that I got him thinking and talking and judging, whatever the hell you want to call it, I did my job… I welcome all the controversy. It is part of the job.”
Williams reiterated that not all the response for his work on The Wire was negative. In fact, he said, he was “approached by a lot of young gay men.” He explained that his role has broken many stereotypes about gay people.
Williams added, “It has had a very positive aspect on me, knowing that someone who is really in the lifestyle, telling me thank you — that meant … a lot to me.”
It was, unfortunately, during his portrayal of Omar Little, that Williams developed an addiction to marijuana and cocaine in 2004.
Way back in 2017, Williams spoke candidly with the New York Times about his struggles with substance abuse. He said, “Addiction doesn’t go away. It’s an everyday struggle for me, but I’m fighting.”
Williams was born in Brooklyn in New York City in 1966. Before moving on to pursue acting with the National Black Theatre Company in New York City, Williams was a dancer who performed with the likes of Madonna and George Michael.
As an actor, Williams received five Primetime Emmy Award nominations, the most recent of which was for his portrayal as Montrose Freeman on HBO’s Lovecraft Country where he received a 2021 Emmy nomination for outstanding supporting actor in a drama series. The 73rd Primetime Emmy Awards will be held this Sunday, September 19.
Williams’ colleagues and fans took to social media to pay their respects to the actor. Here are some of them:
An adult gay black man who didn't have a shred of insecurity and was totally comfortable in his own skin and was also the coolest and most feared outlaw character in the entire show. The early 2000s weren't prepared.— Richard (@RichardOcelot) September 6, 2021
This is heartbreaking. Michael K. Williams’ portrayal of Omar in The Wire was a tour de force, and his was one of the first unapologetically gay, Black characters I saw depicted on screen.— Mondaire Jones (@MondaireJones) September 6, 2021
Rest in Power, King. https://t.co/36DAJuqC0B
We all know homophobia is alive and well today. But Williams and The Wire were doing something really courageous with Omar during the extremely homophobic Bush years.— Joshua Clark Davis (@JoshClarkDavis) September 6, 2021