Actor Michael K. Williams, who as the rogue robber of drug dealers Omar Little on “The Wire” created one of the most beloved and enduring characters in a prime era of television, died on Monday.
Williams was found dead Monday afternoon by family members in his Brooklyn penthouse apartment, New York City police said. He was 54.
His death was being investigated as a possible drug overdose, the NYPD said. The medical examiner was investigating the cause of death.
Little, a “stick-up boy” based on real figures from Baltimore, was probably the most popular character among the devoted fans of “The Wire,” the HBO show that ran from 2002 to 2008 and is re-watched constantly in streaming.
Williams was also a ubiquitous character actor in other shows and films for more than two decades, creating another classic character as Chalky White in HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire” from 2010 to 2014, and appearing in the films “12 Years a Slave” and “Assassin’s Creed.” He is up for an Emmy for his role in HBO’s “Lovecraft Country.” A win at the September 19 ceremony would be his first in four nominations.
Williams was born in 1966 in Brooklyn, the son of a mother from Nassau, Bahamas, and a father from South Carolina. He was raised in the Vanderveer Projects in East Flatbush, Brooklyn, and went to George Westinghouse Career and Technical Education High School.
His first forays into entertainment were as a dancer for artists including Missy Elliot, Ginuwine, Crystal Waters and Technotronic.
Williams had been working with a New Jersey charity to smooth the journey for former prison inmates seeking to reenter society, and was working on a documentary on the subject.
During an interview in 2020 of his rough time growing up, he had struggled with drug addiction, which he had spoken frankly about in recent years.
“This Hollywood thing that you see me in, I’m passing through,” he said. “Because I believe this is where my passion, my purpose is supposed to be.”