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Remembering Prolific Actor Michael K. Williams, A Giant Among Men

Remembering Prolific Actor Michael K. Williams, A Giant Among Men

He was one of one!

This past weekend, news broke that iconic actor Michael K. Williams passed at his home in Brooklyn. While the cause has yet to be determined, the news of the beloved actor’s sudden passing left so many mourning with Williams’ friends, peers and fans sharing their love for him.

The 54-year-old East Flatbush native got his start as a street dancer in New York City. He parlayed his time in the nightclubs into a successful career, dancing and performing in videos with the likes of George Michael and Madonna, The New York Times reports. He got his first acting gig after being discovered by late rapper Tupac Shakur who hired Williams to play his brother in the 1996 film “Bullet.” 

At age 25, a local bar fight in Queens would cause the permanent scar on Williams face that became his signature. He would go on to take small but significant roles in other films like Martin Scorsese’s “Bringing Out the Dead,” before landing his breakout role as Omar Devone Little in HBO’s critically acclaimed series “The Wire.” The television series still reigns as one of the greatest to ever touch the air and Williams made a name for himself as a standout star in a cast full of greats. He went on to make television history, breathing life into some of the most notable characters in television and film, with roles on “Boardwalk Empire, Ava Duvernay’s “When They See Us,” “The Night Of,” and “When We Rise.” Williams garnered five Emmy Award nominations for his work, including one this year for outstanding supporting actor in a drama series for his portrayal of Montrose Freeman in screenwriter Misha Green’s “Lovecraft Country.”

The actor’s ability to breathe life into the most complex of characters was a breath of fresh air and through his characters, he gave voice to the full experience of being a Black male in America. Williams never shied away from his personal struggles or triumphs, speaking candidly about his trials and remaining active in his community, supporting a number of social justice causes, including those surrounding criminal justice reform and mental health. Williams often spoke transparently about how he felt his characters chose him, and how each of them taught him something more about himself and the human experience. 

“[Omar] didn’t care what anyone thought about him. He had a huge moral compass, and he wasn’t afraid to express it. I was the complete polar opposite. I was frightened a lot of times growing up. I had a very low self esteem and a huge need to be accepted. The only thing I knew that I shared with Omar was his sensitivity and his ability to love, and his ability to love deep. I knew that I had that in me,” Williams said in a 2020 GQ interview

Many took to social media to express their sadness around the loss of Williams and share what they felt he meant not just to Hollywood, but to humanity. 

Author Robert Jones Jr. spoke to NBC News about the impact Williams’ portrayal of queer characters had on the LGBTQIA+ community, saying, “Michael K. Williams’ death cuts incredibly deeply because what we witnessed in him was an artist who was getting as close to liberation as we’ve ever seen a Black man get - only to have it snatched away the moment it was within reach. Michael was showing us a different way to think, to act, to love, to be. His passing leaves a cavernous hole in the fabric of existence. I hope his example gives us the skills, the tools, the vision to one day repair it.” 

Wendell Pierce, Williams’ co-star in “The Wire” took to social media to share his condolences. 

Director Ava DuVernay, who worked with Williams on “When They See Us,” penned a heartwarming tribute on Instagram.

“Maya Angelou once said, your legacy lives on in every life you touch. You, brother, touched many. Through your personal interactions big and small, through your community activism, through your struggles, through your triumphs, through your glorious work. You moved many. You moved me. What you doubted in life, be certain of now, dear brother. Be certain. You were a flash of love - now gone. But never forgotten,” wrote DuVernay.





Childhood friend and co-star Queen Latifah also shared a photo of her and Williams, captioned, “When I walked in this room and saw you...for a moment the world went away and it was just Mike and D. Me and you my friend who knows me like no other and vice versa. Only  we know the ish we got into as teenagers while still daring to be great in life! God bless our praying mothers who would never accept us being less than they knew God meant for us to be! Your Heart has always been so big. Thank you for sharing it with so many. The world will miss your talent, but I will miss your silly laugh! I love you Mike and I will always be proud of you.”

Actress Gabrielle Union wrote “Seeing the love for [Michael K. Williams] from all over let me know I didn’t imagine this angel on earth, I was just one of many that had the exceptional opportunity to live in his light. He was gracious, kind, patient and one of the most talented artists of our time. I loved him & he loved me. And I am grateful for every minute we spent laughing, crying, dancing, talking and every adventure we embarked on. Rest angel. I love you man."

Williams is survived by his mother, son, and a host of family and friends.  

Rest in power, Michael K. Williams. 

Photo Courtesy of Jesse Dittmar/For The Times