Michael K. Williams, who played Omar Little in “The Wire” and Chalky White in “Boardwalk Empire,” has died at the age of 54. The actor was found dead inside his Brooklyn home on Monday at 2 p.m., according to the New York Police Department.
Williams played Leonard on Sundance TV crime series “Hap and Leonard” and had a recurring role on J.J. Abrams’ “Alias.” Williams was a regular on many notable HBO series, including “The Wire,” “Boardwalk Empire,” “The Night Of,” and “Lovecraft Country.” In addition, he appeared in acclaimed films such as “Inherent Vice,” “12 Years a Slave,” “Gone Baby Gone,” and “The Road.”
The actor’s efforts earned him three Emmy nominations for outstanding supporting actor in a limited series or film for his roles in “When They See Us,” “The Night Of,” and “Bessie.” For his efforts on “Lovecraft Country,” he is nominated for an Emmy for outstanding supporting actor in a drama series.
He was also known for his comedic performances, such as on “Community” as biology professor Marshall Kane. His small role in “Solo: A Star Wars Story” was cut after reshoots would have caused him to cut short filming on the Netflix feature “The Red Sea Diving Resort.”
HBO said in a statement, “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.”
In 2002, Williams scored his career-making role as Omar Little in David Simon’s critically-acclaimed crime series “The Wire.” Omar Little, a sawed-off shotgun-toting Baltimore stickup man, was one of the series’ most memorable characters.
“Omar is this dark-skinned outspoken man in the hood who didn’t care what anyone thought of him,” Williams told the New York Times in 2017. “He is everything I wished I could be.
”In several interviews, he explained that the intensity of his roles increased his drug problems, and he admitted to using cocaine during the shooting of “The Wire” and “The Night Of.”
“The characters that mean the most to me are the ones that damn near kill me. It’s a sacrifice I’ve chosen to make,” he told the NY Times.
In addition to acting, Williams had also branched out to nonfiction storytelling, hosting and executive producing a Viceland docu-series titled “Black Market With Michael K. Williams” in 2016. Prior to his death, much of Season 2 of the show had been completed.
Williams was born in Brooklyn to a Bahamas-born mother and a South Carolina-born father. As a teenager, he had developed a drug problem while growing up in the Vanderveer housing projects in East Flatbush. Williams ended up with a big scar across his face after being knifed while attempting to intervene in a fight outside a bar on his 25th birthday.
He began getting jobs dancing in music videos for acts including George Michael and Madonna before getting cast in his first film role as Tupac Shakur’s brother in the 1996 film “Bullet.