Michael K. Williams, Star of 'The Wire', 'Boardwalk Empire', 'Lovecraft Country' and More Passes Away at 54

Michael K. Williams, Star of 'The Wire', 'Boardwalk Empire', 'Lovecraft Country' and More Passes Away at 54

- By Nicolás Delgadillo

Williams was an instantly recognizable and rightfully acclaimed actor of both the big and small screen

Michael K. Williams, one of the most iconic faces and prolific actors of film and television over the past two decades, tragically passed away over the Labor Day weekend.

Williams, only 54 years old, was found deceased in his home in Brooklyn on Monday.

Born and raised in Brooklyn, Williams received one of his first big acting gigs in the 1996 crime drama Bullet, which starred Mickey Rourke and Tupac Shakur. Discovered by Shakur himself, Williams was given the role of High Top, brother to Shakur's character in the film, a notorious drug kingpin named Tank.

He would go on to make various appearances in shows like Law & Order and The Sopranos, as well as Martin Scorsese's 1999 film Bringing Out the Dead, before landing his big break and most famous role as Omar Little on HBO's critically-acclaimed series The Wire.

Williams received exponential recognition and praise for his performance as Omar, leading the character to become many fans' favorite throughout the show's run. Omar has become not only a favorite among viewers of The Wire in the years since it aired, but is also considered to be one of the most rich and beloved characters in all of television history thanks largely in part to the layered and powerful performance from Williams.

The actor infamously landed the role after only a single audition - a true rarity when it comes to casting.

Following the end of The Wire, Williams continued to appear in numerous different projects, from J.J. Abrams' Alias to R. Kelly's Trapped In the Closet to post-apocalyptic drama The Road and even other crime dramas like Gone, Baby, Gone and The Kill Point.

In 2010, he landed yet another career-defining role as Albert "Chalky" White, the leader of 1920's Atlantic City's Black community on the hit HBO series Boardwalk Empire, where he starred alongside Steve Buscemi and Michael Shannon, among others.

Much like his work as Omar, Chalky became one of Williams' most well-known and acclaimed performances.

Michael K. Williams photographed in his Brooklyn home August 2021
Photo by Jesse Dittmar

While many people may know Williams best for his parts as ruthless yet complex criminals, as his instantly recognizable facial scar often saw him cast in such roles, the performer also showed that he had plenty of wit and dry humor to go along with his more hardened features.

Williams originally pursued a career as a dancer after being inspired by Janet Jackson's Rhythm Nation 1814, and managed to find work as a background dancer for acts like Kym Sims, George Michael, and even Madonna.

He also played more comedic roles in films like the Chris Rock comedy I Think I Love My Wife and featured on several episodes of Community. Not to mention, he also did voice work on shows like Aqua Teen Hunger Force and F Is for Family.

Williams' most recent work included work with Vice News, acclaimed roles in The Night Of, When They See Us, 12 Years a Slave, Inherent Vice, Arkansas, Critical Thinking, and - just to further cement his legendary place in the HBO catalogue - last year's Lovecraft Country.

Anytime he showed up onscreen, Williams instantly elevated whatever the project was. It was impossible to take your eyes off him in any scene, not simply due to his commanding physical presence, but the way he blended charm, brains and pure heart into every single character he ever played. Even his toughest characters always carried an air of vulnerability to them, and Williams, who openly discussed his issues with childhood and substance abuse, fearlessly brought his own life experiences to the table.

As many tributes and memories from friends, family, co-workers and fans have come flooding in since the news of his death, one thing is clear and consistent: Williams was a gracious, kind, caring, committed and undeniably brilliant artist who now leaves behind a legacy of what can accomplished not just in front of the camera, but behind it as well.

His final roles will be posthumous releases: a drama directed by Anthony Mandler called Surrounded, a thriller from Abi Damaris Corbin called 892, and the video game Battlefield 2042.

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