Actor Michael K Williams sadly passed away on Monday, September 6, aged just 54 years-old. Williams was found dead by family members at his apartment in Brooklyn at approximately 2PM, with The New York Police Department investigating the death as a possible drug overdose. Medical examinations are yet to be carried out.
Williams’ representatives confirmed his death in a statement to the Hollywood Reporter, saying: “It is with deep sorrow that the family announces the passing of Emmy-nominated actor Michael Kenneth Williams. They ask for your privacy while grieving this insurmountable loss.”
The five-time Emmy nominee will be fondly remembered for his groundbreaking portrayal of Omar Little, a gay man, in the HBO series The Wire. Debuting in 2002, Williams took a risk playing Omar, as attitudes remained very hostile towards LGBTQ+ folk at the time. Viewers were exposed to a male character who shared relationships and on-screen kisses with other men, and the actor revealed that he faced significant backlash for the role.
In an interview with The Advocate, he recalled DJ Sway Calloway of New York’s Hot 97 telling him that he was “repulsed” by a scene of Omar kissing Dante in season two, and that it was “morally outrageous”.
Speaking to After Elton on his response to the backlash, Williams felt it was “a job well done”.
“The fact that I got him thinking and talking and judging, whatever the hell you want to call it, I did my job.”
In contrast to that, he had an incredible impact on so many LGBTQ+ people at the time and to this day, revealing that he was “approached by a lot of young gay men,” thrilled to see positive queer representation in a popular TV show.
“Knowing that someone who is really in the lifestyle, telling me thank you – that meant… a lot to me.”
This is heartbreaking. Michael K. Williams’ portrayal of Omar in The Wire was a tour de force, and his was one of the first unapologetically gay, Black characters I saw depicted on screen.
Rest in Power, King. https://t.co/36DAJuqC0B
— Mondaire Jones (@MondaireJones) September 6, 2021
Isaiah Whitlock Jr, one of Williams’ fellow actors on The Wire, described his co-star as “one of the nicest brothers on the planet with the biggest heart. An amazing actor and soul.”
A gay stick-up man, who jacks drug dealers for a living has to be one of the best and most complex characters ever created. Sad news, RIP Michael K Williams. pic.twitter.com/5TAQYypfEK
— Rory Jennings ? (@Chelsearory) September 6, 2021
He is also famously known for his role as Albert ‘Chalky’ White in the series Boardwalk Empire, and is currently Emmy nominated for playing Montrose Freeman in Lovecraft Country. He received three Emmy nominations for his work on The Night Of, and mini-series When They See Us. Viewers may also remember his performances from films including 12 Years a Slave and Inherent Vice.
Michael K. Williams always impressed me with his work, but the scene at the gay club in Lovecraft Country absolutely shattered me into pieces- in the deepest, realest way that art can do. If he had done only that one scene- what a gift. What a gift we got to see so much more.
— Natalie Morales (@nataliemorales) September 6, 2021
Michael K Williams championed visibility not only for LGBTQ+ characters, but also for complex Black characters, and his influence will be remembered and cherished for years to come. Rest in Power.
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