By Chris Factor
I remember it like it was just yesterday. I was in Fort Greene outside the popular Dick & Jane’s for a Labor Day celebration hosted by prominent radio personality and trailblazer Dahved Levy. The sounds of Caribbean music could be heard for blocks and the smell of jerk chicken and corn permeated the air. Dahved insisted I get myself some jerk chicken and once I did, I had no regrets. As I sat there with my friends eating and enjoying the music, a message came through on my phone. It wasn’t a text message, but a DM via Instagram with the news that Michael K. Williams passed away. At first, I was thinking, no way this is real. It’s got to be some sort of rumor. Then another source confirmed it, then another and soon it was being shared via major news outlets. It became real.
When people hear the name Michael K. Williams, they start to reference or talk about his role as Omar Little on The Wire. But in my eyes, Michael was like a brother from another planet. His skills were out of this world. Any role he played he owned. Born and raised in Brooklyn to a Bahamian mother and African-American father by way of Greeleyville, South Carolina, Michael was a Brooklynite through and through. Williams grew up in East Flatbush, Brooklyn and never once turned his back on Brooklyn when he attained success.
As an artist, Williams’ career was not one of overnight success. He worked for years to make a name for himself. First as a backup dancer, where he danced and toured with artists like George Michael and Madonna to name a few, then as a model, where he worked with photographers like David LaChapelle. Later on, Williams got the opportunity to play one of the late Tupac Shakur’s henchmen in the film Bullet. Fast forward to 2002 and Williams would land the role that set his career ablaze as he captured the hearts of many, including the streets, playing a complicated stick-up man named Omar Little in HBO’s The Wire. He was like a modern-day Black cowboy, with is duster, sawed off shotgun and bulletproof vest. For many, The Wire wouldn’t been the same if Omar wasn’t on the show. He brought a different element. One that only Michael K. Williams could have accomplished through his portrayal of Omar.
I stated earlier that Williams was a like a brother from another planet, because of his range and his talent. To be able to breathe life into and embody a character that millions would grow to love in spite of his complexities, says a great deal about the actor playing the role and Williams did that time and time again. Williams last role in a HBO series was that of Montrose Freeman in Lovecraft Country. Again, Williams took a character that was full of contradictions and complications and made it his own. Acting is more than playing a role, it’s the ability to take on that character, craft his or her backstory, embody that individual and make your portrayal of that character so outstanding that when you’re done people see you, I mean really see you. Michael K. Williams has been seen, really seen by many across the world and his work will live on.
Throughout his career as an actor, Michael has received:
- Five Emmy nominations, with his latest in 2020 for Lovecraft Country
- His first Screen Actors Guild (SAG) Award in 2011 for Outstanding Ensemble in a Drama Series in Boardwalk Empire (won) and three nominations
- Critics Choice Awards for Best Supporting Actor in a Drama Series for Lovecraft Country in 2021 (won)
- Best Ensemble Cast nomination from Gotham Awards in 2009 for Life During Wartime
- The Robert Altman Award from the Independent Spirit Awards in 2015 (won)
- The Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series for Lovecraft Country from the Black Reel Awards in 2020 (won) and 5 nominations
- 5 NAACP Image Award nominations
- A nomination from Satellite Award for Best Supporting Actor – Series, Miniseries or TV Film for Bessie in 2015