The actor Michael K Williams, best known for playing the iconic role of gay stickup man Omar Little in The Wire, has died aged 54.
Williams, who received plaudits for the humanity he brought to his roles portraying violent criminals, was found collapsed at his New York apartment on Monday.
According to police, a substance suspected to be heroin was found near his body. It is being tested for the presence of fentanyl, a potent drug that is laced into much of America’s opioid supplies and which has caused record numbers of overdoses. Williams had talked frankly about his past struggles with drugs.
“The depth of my love for this brother can only be matched by the depth of my pain learning of his loss,” said Wendell Pierce, who played Detective Bunk Moreland alongside Williams in The Wire. “An immensely talented man with the ability to give voice to the human condition portraying the lives of those whose humanity is seldom elevated until he sings their truth.”
On Twitter, David Simon, creator of The Wire, said: “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.”
Williams, who started his stage career as a dancer for Madonna and George Michael, was discovered by Tupac Shakur, who cast him in the 1996 film Bullet. His facial scar was the result of being slashed with a razor in a bar fight when he was 25. His more famous roles included gangster Albert “Chalky” White in the series Boardwalk Empire and Montrose Freeman in HBO’s Lovecraft Country, for which he received an Emmy nomination.
The actor was a presenter on the VICE TV series Black Market, where he investigated illicit trade networks around the world, and had begun working on a second series earlier this year.
During the filming of one episode in the series, about the UK’s heroin trade, he interviewed two young heroin and crack users in a squat in North London. In a touching moment during the interview, he talked about his own struggles with drug addiction, and encouraged the two young people not to give up hope of escape, and not to die.
“We are truly saddened by the sudden passing of Michael K. Williams, a true icon and a longtime friend of our VICE family,” VICE Media Group said in a statement. “Michael was a cultural visionary and a pillar of the community in his home, and ours – Brooklyn. The impact of this loss will be felt close to home and beyond for many years to come. Our deepest condolences go out to his family and loved ones.”
Williams is survived by his son, Elijah.