NEW YORK - Michael K. Williams, the actor who brought a hard-edge charisma to his portrayal of Omar Little, the sawed-off-shotgun-wielding stickup man on the pioneering HBO series The Wire, was found dead on Monday in his home in the Williamsburg neighbourhood of Brooklyn, the police said. He was 54.
His long-time representative, Marianna Shafran, confirmed the death in a statement and said the family was grappling with "deep sorrow" at "this insurmountable loss".
The death is being investigated as a possible drug overdose and the city's medical examiner will determine the cause.
As Omar Little on The Wire (2002 to 2008), David Simon's five-season epic on HBO that explored the gritty underworld of corruption, drugs and the police in Baltimore, Williams played perhaps the most memorable character on a series many consider among the best shows in television history.
Omar was one of prime-time's pre-eminent antiheroes in a TV era defined by them. He was also gay and openly so in the homophobic, coldblooded world of murder and drugs, a groundbreaking portrayal of black masculinity on television.
Williams grew up in the East Flatbush neighbourhood of Brooklyn. Before he was 30, he had parlayed his love for dance into dancing roles with singers George Michael and Madonna, and choreographed and performed in the video for Crystal Waters' hit single, 100% Pure Love. He landed his first acting opportunity in the 1996 film Bullet.
The Wire established Williams as one of television's finest actors, and he went on to star in acclaimed series like Boardwalk Empire (2010 to 2014), The Night Of (2016) and When We Rise (2017).
He received five Emmy Award nominations, including one in the upcoming Primetime Emmy Awards this month (September). He was nominated this year for outstanding supporting actor in a drama series for his portrayal of Montrose Freeman on the HBO show Lovecraft Country (2020).
Off-camera, however, Williams struggled at times with drug addiction, a battle he discussed openly in interviews.
Michael Kenneth Williams was born Nov 22, 1966. His mother immigrated from the Bahamas, worked as a seamstress and later operated a day care centre out of the Vanderveer Estates, the public housing complex now known as Flatbush Gardens where the family lived in Brooklyn. His parents separated when he was young.
Williams is survived by his mother, Paula Williams, his brother, Paul Carey, and his nephew, Dominic Dupont.