Michael K. Williams, the veteran character actor who rose to fame playing the role of Omar Little, a drug dealer-robbing and openly gay street gangster in the award-winning drama, “The Wire,” has died at the age of 54.
Williams was found dead in his New York City apartment on Monday afternoon, the New York Post reported.
There were no immediate reports of what may have caused Williams to die. However, the Post, citing unnamed sources, also reported that “Williams was found dead of a suspected heroin overdose” when he was found “with what appeared to be heroin on the kitchen table.” Authorities reportedly suspect Williams died of a fatal drug overdose. As a result, “fentanyl” promptly became a top trending topic on Twitter.
He was reportedly found by his nephew in his Brooklyn apartment.
Aside from achieving widespread success from “The Wire,” Williams — a Brooklyn native — also starred in numerous movies as well as other cable TV dramas, such as “Boardwalk Empire,” in which he portrayed gangster Chalky White on HBO. Williams also received critical acclaim for his role in HBO’s recent sci-fi series, “Lovecraft County.”
According to his IMDB page, Williams was nominated for multiple Emmy Awards and “Boardwalk Empire” won a Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series.
Many of Williams’ roles focused on the Black experience, for better and, as evidenced by his infamous Omar Little character on “The Wire,” for worse.
That may or may have not been by design for Williams, who notably away from the bright lights participated in a docuseries for Vice that brought attention to the juvenile justice system in America.
Williams also did his part to address the pandemic, including stepping up to ensure at-risk youth in New York City have employment opportunities amid the public health crisis.
Last year, Williams joined forces with the nonprofit organization NYC Together to launch a campaign to help fund a summer program that will employ Black and Latinx youth in New York City. Through the initiative, NYC Together will work with community-based organizations, health experts and law enforcement officials to create and identify job opportunities that are connected to addressing COVID-19.
“With all the city budget cuts gutting all the opportunities for kids in my community to have something to do or to earn a couple of dollars to take care of themselves and sometimes even their families over the summer, I’m afraid this year might be worse,” Williams said in a video posted on Twitter. “Money is freedom and money will help ease the burden on their parents to pay for things like food, medicine and all other costs that come with this COVID outbreak.”
Most recently, Williams drew applause for his performance at this summer’s BET Awards during a tribute to late rapper DMX. Fans said they shared an uncanny resemblance.
Tributes poured in on social media following the news of Williams’ death.
Born Michael Kenneth Williams in Brooklyn on Nov. 22, 1966, the man who would eventually achieve massive success as an actor actually got his start in show business as a dancer at the age of 22. He appeared in music videos and was a backup dancer during a tour for Madonna and George Michael before trying to make it as an actor.
After being cast in plays and other theater productions, Williams was cast as Omar Little after winning the role following a single audition in the early 2000s, according to The Wire.
The character of Omar Little was an openly gay street gangster who gained respect and fear by robbing drug dealers in Baltimore. Williams portrayed Little for three seasons of “The Wire” before the character succumbed to the same perils of street life that the character personified.
Williams bore a signature scar across his face that he said he got in a bar fight.
“Dudes had razors in their mouths and I got cut,” Williams explained during an interview from 2005. “Wrong place, wrong time basically. Wrong drink. That definitely woke me up. That definitely was a life altering experience. I almost died that night.”
Williams’ first acting role was in the 1996 film, “Bullet,” which starred the late rapper Tupac Shakur, who hand-picked the actor without having even met him.
“Apparently, Tupac saw a Polaroid of me in a production office and asked, ‘Who’s this dude?'” Williams recalled. “They found me, called me, had me come in and read for the role of the little brother in Bullet and I got the part. I got my first ever acting gig.”
As far as playing an openly gay character in “The Wire,” Williams said he had no problem with it.
“I’m a character actor, I always look for challenges,” Williams said about playing the role of a homosexual.
Williams added later: “When I read Omar, I didn’t look at it and say, ‘Why does he have to be gay?’ I said, ‘Oh, this is it. He’s a homo. That’s what I need.’ I took it as a blessing. The minute I read Omar on that paper, I embraced all of him. I never regretted any of it. I fell in love with him on the paper when I read the breakdown, before I even read a script.”