Actor Michael K. Williams, who starred on the critically acclaimed HBO series “The Wire,” was found deceased in his Brooklyn apartment Monday, the NYPD said.
Williams, 54, was a Brooklyn native who grew up in the Vanderveer Estates NYCHA complex (now known as Flatbush Gardens) in East Flatbush and attended George Westinghouse Career and Technical Education High School.
His portrayal of Omar Little on “The Wire” was his breakthrough role.
As Little, he played a criminal with a strict moral code, known for taking advantage of a reputation for brutality that wasn’t always real.
A cigarette in his mouth, he would whistle “The Farmer in the Dell” to ominously announce his arrival.
And he spoke many of the show’s most memorable lines, including, “a man gotta have a code” and “all in the game yo, all in the game.”
The character also broke TV ground as an openly gay man whose sexuality wasn’t central to his role.
Williams appeared in all five seasons of “The Wire” from 2002 to 2008, his character growing in prominence with each season.
He received acclaim for his performance, including from former President Barack Obama. Obama, who has said “The Wire” is one of the best TV shows of all time, called Omar his favorite character on the show.
Wendell Pierce, who also starred on “The Wire,” called Williams 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.”
Williams also played Chalky White on the HBO drama “Boardwalk Empire.”
He was nominated three times for a primetime Emmy award for best supporting actor in a limited series or movie – once for the TV movie “Bessie” in 2015; once for the limited series “The Night Of” in 2016; and once for the limited series “When They See Us” in 2019.
Most recently, Williams was nominated for an Emmy for best supporting actor in a drama series for his role as Montrose Freeman, the father of main character Atticus “Tic” Freeman in the HBO horror drama series “Lovecraft Country.” The winner in that category has not yet been picked. This year’s Emmys ceremony will be held later this month.
The actor was also known for his work in the community. He spoke with NY1’s Errol Louis last year about his advocacy efforts on criminal justice issues and his work with the nonprofit NYC Together, which, according to its website, has “an original mission to interrupt the school to prison pipeline through meaningful collaborations between police officers and youth most impacted by system involvement.”
Massah Fofana, who grew up with Williams at the Vanderveer Estates in the 1980s, said he never lost sight of his East Flatbush roots.
“You blessed the world with your talents and your gifts. You’re coming from our neighborhood, and you’re a complete gem to our neighborhood,” she said. “Every time you were interviewed and you always mentioned where you were from, we were always such proud Vanderveer kids.”
Junior Martin, who also grew up in East Flatbush, said even when Williams became a star, he kept coming back to the neighborhood that raised him.
“He came to the hood. He did everything as a movie star, but he came back and helped us with the community,” Martin said. “He’s a good man. He’s going to be well missed.”
Williams’ nephew, Arvance, said this loss impacts more than just his family because the actor meant so much to so many people.
“I can’t tell you how much he loved his community. He loved Brooklyn,” Arvance Williams said. “We’re going to miss him dearly. He was a big part of our family, and he was respected. It’s going to be tough living without him.”