Michael K. Williams, Emmy-nominated actor who brought charming menace to ‘The Wire,’ dies at 54

Michael K. Williams, Emmy-nominated actor who brought charming menace to ‘The Wire,’ dies at 54

Michael K. Williams, an ­Emmy-nominated actor who brought charming menace to HBO’s crime series “The Wire” as Omar Little, a stickup man who robs drug dealers, and who also appeared in shows including “Boardwalk Empire” and “Lovecraft Country,” was found dead Sept. 6 in his Brooklyn apartment. He was 54.

A New York police spokesperson confirmed his death but did not provide additional details.

Mr. Williams was celebrated for delivering nuanced performances as swaggering street toughs, charming family men and smooth-talking gangsters. He played bootlegger Chalky White on the Prohibition-era HBO series “Boardwalk Empire” and earned four Emmy nominations as a supporting actor, most recently for playing an abusive, alcoholic father in HBO’s “Lovecraft Country.”

But he remained best known for his starmaking, morally ambiguous role in “The Wire,” a gritty portrait of Baltimore crime and corruption that aired on HBO for five seasons beginning in 2002. The shotgun-wielding Omar was supposed to appear in only a few episodes of the show’s first season but became one of the show’s defining characters, known for his strict code of ethics.
Mr. Williams in 2014.“He was more than somebody who went around killing people. He had morals, he had character, he was honest,” Mr. Williams told Canada’s National Post newspaper. “Omar said what he did, and he did what he said. That’s a rarity in human society.”

Mr. Williams was working at his mother’s day-care center, his acting career floundering, when he was cast as Omar. He had seen echoes of his upbringing in the character, although when a prop person handed him a shotgun during his first day on the set, Mr. Williams “didn’t know which end was which,” showrunner and “Wire” creator David Simon told the New York Times in 2017. “Mike is a beautiful man, but a gangster he is not.”

A few days later, Mr. Williams went home to the East Flatbush section of Brooklyn, where he found a drug dealer who taught him the intricacies of firearms while shooting pellets into a steel door on the roof of the Vanderveer Estates, the housing complex where he had grown up. “Best acting lesson I ever had,” he said.
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