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07 September 2021

The Wire actor Michael K Williams found dead at home after ‘suspected drug overdose’

07 September 2021

The Wire actor Michael K Williams has been found dead aged 54 at his home in Brooklyn following a suspected drug overdose, according to US media reports.

Williams, best known for playing the charismatic Omar Little on HBO’s acclaimed crime drama, was found at about 2pm local time on Monday, PA understands.

The death is being investigated by the New York City medical examiner.

The New York Post quoted “law enforcement sources” in reporting his death from a “suspected heroin overdose”, but this has not yet been confirmed officially.

Michael K Williams starred in the Sky series Lovecraft Country (©2020 Home Box Office, Inc. All Rights Reserved.)

As well as The Wire, Williams, who had a distinctive facial scar from a bar fight on his 25th birthday, had roles in gangster series Boardwalk Empire and TV film Bessie, and had, over the years, spoken about his personal struggles with drugs. 

He was a four-time Emmy nominee for Bessie, The Night Of, When They See Us and Lovecraft Country.

Last week, it was announced Williams had joined the cast of Sony’s untitled biopic of famed world heavyweight champion George Foreman.

The Wire actor Michael K Williams has been found dead aged 54 (Evan Agostini/Invision/AP) (AP)

He was set to play Doc Broadus, who was Foreman’s trainer and mentor.

His other film roles included The Road, Inherent Vice and 12 Years A Slave.

However, Williams will be best remembered for Omar, the gay, morally ambiguous criminal who frequently targets drug dealers.

The character was known for the distinctive duster jacket he wore to conceal weapons while wandering the streets of Baltimore.

David Simon, creator of The Wire, shared a tribute on Twitter.

Alongside a picture of Williams, he wrote: “Too gutted right now to say all that ought to be said. Michael was a fine man and a rare talent, and on our journey together he always deserved the best words. And today those words won’t come.”

Isiah Whitlock Jr starred alongside Williams in The Wire and paid tribute on Twitter.

He said: “Shocked and saddened by the death of Michael K Williams. One of the nicest brothers on the planet with the biggest heart. An amazing actor and soul. May you RIP. God bless.”

Wendell Pierce, best known for his role as Detective Bunk Moreland in The Wire, tweeted: “If you don’t know, you better ask somebody. His name was Michael K. Williams. 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.

“It took me years to learn what Michael had in abundance.”

Chart-topping singer Mariah Carey shared smiling pictures of her and Williams together.

She wrote on Instagram: “A beautiful soul, a beautiful person, I’ll miss you always. Thank you for blessing us with your talent.”

Award-winning actress Kerry Washington said: “So heartbroken. @bkbmg thank you for the beauty and joy you brought to the world. Sending love and prayers to your friends, family and everyone who adored you me included We adore you Sir.”

Oscar-winner Viola Davis said: “No! So sad. Man do I wish this were a different ending. Rest well.”

Aisha Tyler, the actress and director, said Williams was a “beautiful, passionate, expansive soul”.

She 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.”

Chance The Rapper referenced Williams’s portrayal of Albert “Chalky” White on the HBO series Boardwalk Empire.

He said: “A lot of people knew him as Omar, I knew him as Chalky. I’m sure his family knew his as Michael. Thanks for all you gave to encourage, enlighten and entertain people you didn’t even know. Praying for your people.”

Williams, who was born and raised in East Flatbush, Brooklyn, looked back on a tough upbringing during a 2017 interview with the New York Times.

He revealed he had been molested as a child and developed a drug addiction.

“The characters that mean the most to me are the ones that damn near kill me,” Williams said of his gangster roles which caused old trauma to resurface. “It’s a sacrifice I’ve chosen to make.”

While he did not identify as gay, Williams revealed he felt a sense of belonging in the Manhattan gay bars of the 1980s and 90s.

He was scarred for life in a bar fight in Queens. The New York Times said he intervened to stop a group of men jumping his friend, only to have his face and neck sliced with a razor blade.

It left a distinguishing scar from the top of his forehead to the middle of his right cheek, which became an indelible part of his acting career.

He started dancing in music videos and landed a role as a drug dealer in Martin Scorsese’s 1999 drama film Bringing Out The Dead.

Williams had a small part in The Sopranos – a show alongside The Wire perennially discussed as being the best ever – before he appeared as Omar in 2002.

He starred in The Wire for all five seasons until 2008, with his character growing in prominence throughout.

In 2016 he starred alongside James Purefoy and Christina Hendricks in drama series Hap and Leonard.

Purefoy said in a tweet: “Good night sweet Prince. You were the most soulful, beautiful and dangerous of actors. Your spirit and extraordinary talent left an indelible mark on me for which I will always be grateful. Thank you my brother x”

Bafta was among those from the entertainment industry remembering the star and the arts charity said in a tweet:  “We are deeply saddened to hear of the passing of Michael K. Williams. Our thoughts are with those close to him.”

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