Emmy-nominated actor Michael K. Williams, whose role as Omar Little, a robber of drug dealers, on hit TV series “The Wire” catapulted him to stardom, was found dead of a suspected heroin overdose in his Brooklyn penthouse Monday afternoon.
Williams, 54, was found face-down and unresponsive in the dining room of his luxury Williamsburg, Brooklyn, apartment with drug paraphernalia and what appeared to be heroin on the kitchen table, sources told The New York Post.
A relative went to Williams’ home after not hearing from him for a few days and called the police. Williams was pronounced dead by authorities at 2:12 p.m., and it appeared the TV star had fatally overdosed. “No foul play indicated,’’ a police source said. “No forced entry, the apartment was in order.’’
“It is with deep sorrow that the family announces the passing of Emmy nominated actor Michael Kenneth Williams,’’ spokeswoman Marianna Shafran told The Hollywood Reporter. “They ask for your privacy while grieving this unsurmountable loss.’’
Remembrances flooded Twitter.
“The Wire” co-star Wendell Pierce tweeted, “The depth of my love for this brother, can only be matched by the depth of my pain learning of his loss. A 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.”
Throughout his career, Williams spoke openly about his struggles with drugs, saying he became addicted to cocaine in 2004 while portraying Omar, an openly gay character who carried around a sawed-off shotgun while walking the streets of Baltimore robbing drug dealers. “The Wire” ran from 2002 to 2008.
Williams was known to inject humanity into his characters, no matter how dark the role was.
“I use my job to engage empathy and compassion for people society might stereotype or ostracize,” he told the Guardian in 2015. “No one wakes up and says, ‘I’m going to become a drug dealer’ or ‘I’m going to become a stickup kid.’ No. There is a series of events that makes them feel this is the only way out. As a Black man growing up in the ’hood, I bear witness to some of those events.”
His characters also affected him. In a recent interview on NPR’s Fresh Air, Willaims said playing Omar, a complex and dangerous criminal, left him with a “dark energy” after the cameras stopped rolling. This, in part, led him to a cocaine addiction.
The lines between reality and his character became blurred. He even said when he was hanging out in drug dens he called himself Omar, The Huffington Post reported.
He later overcame his cocaine addiction through faith during the third season of “The Wire.” Williams reached out to the church to deal not just with his drug addiction but the root cause. He said he was molested as an adolescent. “I had a very low self-esteem coming up, and I just never felt like God loved me because I was dirty,” said Williams, who got his trademark facial scar in a fight outside a bar in Queens, New York, when he was 25.
Williams continually sought help to deal with his struggles. He said he recently entered therapy during one of his last interviews after filming HBO’s “Lovecraft Country.”
Just a few months ago, Williams told syndicated TV talk-show host Tamron Hall that he sought mental health treatment after wrapping up “Lovecraft Country,” for which he was nominated for an Emmy Award.
“I just started therapy, you know, and really taking that seriously and starting to unpack, like you said, the critic in my head and what and how that has affected my — my actions, my responses to certain situations, my relationships,” he said in a video clip posted to YouTube on Feb. 25.
“Drugs and alcohol are not the problems, they’re merely symptoms of the problem,” Williams continued. “And once those things go away, the real work begins, you know…working on all the character defects, the moral compass — the skewed moral compass.”
Williams added, “Those are the things that need to be addressed. Those are the reasons we got high in the first place, and our inability to deal with life on life’s terms.”
His struggles went way back. In an October interview with Men’s Health magazine, Williams talked about self-medicating as a teen and attempting suicide at 17. “I was lost. I was very awkward with the ladies. Drugs were there,” The New York Post reported.
“I just remember feeling like, ‘Eh, maybe the world will be better off without me.’ And I took a bottle of pills, woke up to my stomach being pumped,” he said.
He later learned to use meditation and prayer to recover from addiction after “The Wire” and had adopted new strategies to keep from losing himself in the characters he portrayed.
“Number one, I keep a very good, solid team of people around me when I’m doing these dark roles. I call them my lasso. Tie a little lasso around my ankle and they’re keeping me up,” he said.
“I’m keeping good, healthy-minded people around and just protecting myself. Being responsible.”
On Twitter, condolences kept pouring in.
“Omar is no longer coming. Rest in Power, Michael K. Williams” Darius Mensah tweeted.
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