Michael K. Williams made The Wire hum

Lee Heidhues 9.6.2021

I watched all five seasons of The Wire and own every season as part of my DVD collection.


Some TV critics have written that The Wire is the best television show in the history of the medium. It may be true and Michael K. Williams portraying Omar is a reason why The Wire receives such high acclaim.

It’s a sad day to learn of Mr. Williams passing at the young age of 54.

The Wire on DVD – Seasons 1-5

Excerpted from The New York Times 9.6.2021

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 neighborhood of Brooklyn, the police said. He was 54.

His longtime representative, Marianna Shafran, confirmed the death in a statement and said the family was grappling with “deep sorrow” at “this insurmountable loss.”

Mr. Williams was found at about 2 p.m., according to the New York City Police Department. 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,” 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.

Michael K. Williams II 9.6.2021.jpg
Michael K. Williams as Omar in The Wire

As a swaggering lone wolf in a story largely defined by continuing battles between the police and various crime bosses and crews, Omar was one of prime-time’s preeminent 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.

“I saw a lot of homophobia in my community,” Mr. Williams told The New York Times in 2019. “Omar definitely helped soften the blow of homophobia in my community and it opened up a dialogue, definitely.”

Mr. Williams grew up in the East Flatbush neighborhood of Brooklyn, where he said he had never envisioned a life outside the borough. But before he was 30, he had parlayed his love for dance into dancing roles with the singers George Michael and Madonna, and choreographed and performed in the video for Crystal Waters’s hit single, “100% Pure Love.” He then landed his first acting opportunity when he caught the eye of Tupac Shakur.

Michael K. Williams IV 9.6.2021.jpg

At 25 years old, Mr. Williams got the scar that became his signature physical feature and that helped to define him as an actor. He was spending his birthday at a bar in Queens when a man slashed his face with a razor blade during a fight. After that, directors no longer wanted him as a backup dancer; they wanted him in “thug roles,” he told NPR in 2014.

Then came“The Wire.” Just before he landed the role, Mr. Williams has described himself as “lost,” in debt and borrowing money from his family to live. He was in the living room watching television when his episode of “The Sopranos” came on and, watching himself onscreen, he realized he was sitting around wasting his talent.

“I went back to my mom and I said, ‘You know what, I think I need to give show business one more shot,’” he told Vanity Fair.