The Wire actor Michael K Williams dies aged 54

Tributes paid to ‘amazing actor’ who portrayed Omar Little in well-known TV series

A clip from season one of hit HBO series "The Wire". Video: HBO

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Michael K Williams, who played the character Omar Little in the TV series The Wire was found dead in his New York apartment on Monday, said the New York Police Department (NYPD). He was 54.

Lieut John Grimpel, an NYPD spokesman, said Williams was found dead in his Brooklyn apartment after a 2pm (6pm Irish time) emergency phone call to emergency operators.

The NYPD said there was an “ongoing investigation” into Williams’s death and that the New York City medical examiner will determine the cause at a later time

As well as The Wire, Williams had roles in gangster series Boardwalk Empire and TV film Bessie.

He was a four-time Emmy nominee for Bessie, The Night Of, When They See Us and Lovecraft Country.

Last week, it was announced Williams had joined the cast of Sony’s untitled biopic of famed world heavyweight champion George Foremen.

He was set to play Doc Broadus, who was Foreman’s trainer and mentor.

His other film roles included The Road, Inherent Vice and 12 Years A Slave.

Isiah Whitlock Jr starred alongside Williams in The Wire and paid tribute on Twitter.

He said: “Shocked and saddened by the death of Michael K Williams. One of the nicest brothers on the planet with the biggest heart. An amazing actor and soul. May you RIP. God bless.”

Wendell Pierce, best known for his role as Detective Bunk Moreland in The Wire, tweeted: “If you don’t know, you better ask somebody. His name was Michael K. Williams. He shared with me his secret fears then stepped out into his acting with true courage, acting in the face of fear, not in the absence of it.

“It took me years to learn what Michael had in abundance.”

Aisha Tyler, the actress and director, said Williams was a “beautiful, passionate, expansive soul”.

She tweeted: “I felt so lucky to have known him, and we were all so fortunate to have enjoyed his incredible talent. He burned so very bright. Rest in power, MKW. You will forever be The King.”

Chance The Rapper referenced Williams’s portrayal of Albert “Chalky” White on the HBO series Boardwalk Empire.

He said: “A lot of people knew him as Omar, I knew him as Chalky. I’m sure his family knew his as Michael. Thanks for all you gave to encourage, enlighten and entertain people you didn’t even know. Praying for your people.”

Williams, who was born and raised in East Flatbush, Brooklyn, and looked back on a tough upbringing during a 2017 interview with the New York Times.

He revealed he had been molested as a child and developed a drug addiction.

“The characters that mean the most to me are the ones that damn near kill me,” Williams said of his gangster roles which caused old trauma to resurface. “It’s a sacrifice I’ve chosen to make.”

Williams was scarred for life in a bar fight in Queens when he was 25. The New York Times said he intervened to stop a group of men jumping his friend, only to have his face and neck sliced with a razor blade.

It left a distinguishing scar from the top of his forehead to the middle of his right cheek, which became an indelible part of his acting career.

He started dancing in music videos and landed a role as a drug dealer in Martin Scorsese’s 1999 drama film Bringing Out The Dead.

Williams had a small part in The Sopranos before he appeared as Omar in 2002.

He starred in The Wire for all five seasons until 2008, with his character growing in prominence throughout. – Reuters/PA