Who was Michael K. Williams?
Michael Kenneth Williams was an American actor, and dancer. He was one of the most recognized and respected artists in the television world. He was best known for playing Omar Little on the popular HBO series The Wire and Albert ‘Chalky’ White in HBO’s Boardwalk Empire. The actor was discovered by late American rapper Tupac Shakur, who also introduced Michael to mainstream cinema by casting him in the 1996 film Bullet. Since then, the actor played major roles in a number of television series, including Bullet, I Think I Love My Wife, Gone Baby Gone, Addicts, and more. In addition to that, he also appeared in small roles in movies like The Incredible Hulk, Assassin’s Creed, and the Academy Award-winning movie 12 Years a Slave. Michael's popularity went up further when former president Barack Obama described The Wire as his favorite television show and mentioned Michael’s character Omar Little as one of the most intriguing characters on the show. Williams is also a successful choreographer and has worked as a background dancer. He received five Primetime Emmy Award nominations. Michael K. Williams was found dead in his New York apartment on September 6, 2021.
Childhood & Early Life
Michael was born Michael Kenneth Williams on November 22, 1966, in East Flatbush area of New York City. His father was an African-American from South Carolina while his mother was from Nassau.
Michael K. Williams attended George Westinghouse Career and Technical Education High School and later enrolled at the National Black Theatre in New York City.
He was molested during adolescent, and this incident scarred him emotionally and resulted into a troubled teenage. He had low self-esteem and often sought help and consolation from the church.
He grew up in a rough and violent neighborhood. As a teenager, Williams got into bad company for a while, but all this changed as soon as her discovered the performing arts.
Williams initially worked at a pharmaceutical company at quite an early age to support his family. Later, he quit the job after a short while to focus on his dance career.
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Inspired by one of Janet Jackson’s popular songs Rhythm Nation 1814, Michael quit his pharmaceutical job and left school to pursue his dream as a dancer. He visited a number of labels and dance studios and was homeless for quite some time. After a year, he was finally selected as a background dancer and continued to do the job for artists like George Michael, Madonna, and Kym Sim.
On his 25th birthday in 1991, he got into a bar fight on Jamaica Avenue where he was slashed with a razor blade in the face. The wound left a big scar on Michael’s face and it later became one of the main reasons for Michael to be cast as a thug in movies and videos.
In 1994, Michael choreographed Crystal Waters’ single 100% Pure Love, and appeared in a number of dance videos. In addition to working as a dancer, he was also offered modeling jobs. In 1995, he played a minor role in a film titled Mugshot and received appreciation for his skills.
His first acting role came in 1996, when American rapper Tupac Shakur discovered Michael and cast him as High Top in the film Bullet. Bullet was Michael’s first experience in mainstream movies.
From 1997 to 2001, he made guest appearances in a number of movies and television series, including Law & Order, The Sopranos, and Deadline. During the time, Michael briefly battled depression owing to the failure in his acting career.
In 2002, Michael auditioned for a role at HBO and was immediately called back to play the part of Omar Little, a street thug, in The Wire, a role which would ultimately change his life. The part gained him widespread recognition and he received tremendous critical acclamation. Originally meant to be a minor character slated to appear in seven episodes of the first season, Michael’s excellent portrayal prompted the showrunners to prolong his character and make it one of the major ones in the show.
From 2010 to 2014, Michael appeared as Chalky White on HBO’s Boardwalk Empire. The part garnered him critical acclaim. He also received nominations for two SAG Awards and a NAACP Award for the series.
In 2012, he executive produced the found footage-style drama film Snow on tha Bluff.
Michael K. Williams modeled for the 2014 fall collection for GAP. In the following years, he appeared in a number of series, movies, and television miniseries, including Ghostbusters, CSI, Community, Snitch, Captive, The Gambler, The Purge: Anarchy, A Day in the Life, Hap and Leonard, and many more.
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The 2016 television movie Bessie, based on the life of the famous blues singer Bessie Smith, featured him as the first husband of the legendary singer. The role earned him numerous award nominations and critical acclaim.
In 2020, Michael played Montrose Freeman in Lovecraft Country.
Spanning an impressive career in films and television, Michael K. Williams has several iconic shows and series in his portfolio. He has appeared in recurring episodes of the hit television series ‘Law & Order’, ‘CSI’, ‘The Sopranos’ and ‘Alias’.
His portrayal of strong and ruthless characters played with a hint of gentleness and compassion was widely appreciated. In 2008, he was also lauded by Barack Obama, for his portrayal of Omar Little in HBO’s ‘The Wire’. Obama stated that ‘The Wire’ was his favorite television series and Omar Little was a fascinating character and the toughest guy on the show.
Michael is the American Civil Liberties Union celebrity ambassador for the Campaign for Smart Justice.
He has also established a charitable organization named ‘Making Kids Win’. The organization aims to build community centers and equip urban neighborhoods with safe spaces for children to grow, play and be educated.
Awards & Achievements
In 2007, he earned a nomination for an NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Actor in Drama Series for his portrayal of Omar Little in ‘The Wire’.
In 2009, he was nominated for the Gotham Award for Best Ensemble Cast along with the cast of ‘Life During Wartime’.
In 2011, Michael and the cast of ‘Boardwalk Empire’ were nominated and won the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in Drama Series. In 2012, they were nominated for the same award, but lost to the cast of ‘Downton Abbie’.
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In 2013, he and the cast of ‘12 Years a Slave’ received a nomination for the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture.
In 2014, he was also nominated for the Black Reel Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture for ‘The Gambler’.
In 2015, he also won the Independent Spirit Robert Altman Award. He was nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in Limited Series or Movie, for his role in the television movie ‘Bessie’. In the same year, he was nominated for the Satellite Award for Best Supporting Actor – Series, Miniseries, or Television Film category for his role in ‘Bessie’.
In 2016, he appeared in the HBO miniseries ‘The Night Of’ and received a nomination for Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Limited Series or Movie.
Michael was rumored to be gay until the birth of his son, Elijah Williams, from one of his girlfriends.
He never revealed any information about his personal life and remained largely secretive.
Michael K. Williams died on September 6, 2021. He was found dead in his Brooklyn penthouse. He was 54.
Edward Norton insisted on writing a cameo for Michael K. Williams for his movie The Incredible Hulk. Norton was a really huge fan of Michael’s character Omar Little in HBO’s The Wire.
At the time of his death in 2021, Michael K. William’s net worth was estimated to be 5 million dollars.