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Michael K. Williams, whose portrayal of Omar Little made him arguably the most popular character on the HBO series “The Wire,” had spoken frankly about his battle with drug addiction over the years, at one point calling it “an everyday struggle.”
Williams was found dead in his apartment in Brooklyn, New York, on Monday afternoon from what authorities have said was a possible overdose. He was 54. The cause and manner of his death have not been determined, the New York City medical examiner said Tuesday.
Williams, who appeared in all five seasons of “The Wire” from 2002 to 2008 and as Chalky White in another acclaimed HBO series, “Boardwalk Empire,” had said he wanted to help others by opening up about his addiction.
“I thought, ‘Why me? Why did I get spared?’ I should’ve been dead,” Williams told Inside Jersey magazine in 2012. “I have the scars. I’ve stuck my head in the lion’s mouth. Obviously, God saved me for a purpose. So, I decided to get clean and then come clean. I’m hoping I can reach that one person.”
Williams had said he was leading a double life during some of the time he was portraying Little, a sawed-off-shotgun-wielding gay man who robbed drug dealers, on “The Wire.” When he wasn’t filming, he would go to Newark, New Jersey, to get drugs, spending much of his earnings from the series supporting his addiction, The New York Times reported in 2017.
He told Inside Jersey in 2012 that he “was playing with fire.”
“It was just a matter of time before I got caught and my business ended up on the cover of a tabloid or I went to jail or, worse, I ended up dead,” Williams said. “When I look back on it now, I don’t know how I didn’t end up in a body bag.”
The Times reported in 2017 that Williams would sometimes show up high to film “The Wire” but that the show’s producers did not want to fire him, because, as series creator David Simon explained, “we worried that if he lost the work he’d become truly untethered.”
Williams said he eventually grew tired of the charade.
“No one who was in my circle, who knew me as Mike, was allowing me to get high,” he said in 2012. “I had to slip away to do drugs. I had to hide it. I’d be gone for days at a time. I was lonely in that part of my life. I was broke, broken and beat up. Exhausted. Empty. I finally said, ‘I can’t do this no more.’ I didn’t want to end up dead.”
Williams credited the Rev. Ronald Christian, who was a prominent pastor at Christian Love Baptist Church in Irvington, New Jersey, with helping him get clean. Christian died in October 2015.
Williams said Christian was the first person he had confided in entirely.
“I laid it all out. It was the first time I really laid everything out to anyone,” he said in the 2012 interview. “I was a total stranger to him, but I felt very comfortable with him.”
Brandon K. Washington, 29, who has been a pastor at the church for the past three years, said Williams would make unannounced visits three or four times a year.
“He came to the church under the previous pastor, and all the times he would come he would always reference his struggles,” Washington said Tuesday. “He was always confident with his relationship with God.”
Washington said Williams would blend in easily with church members, whom he would greet with hugs and kisses. He would always pose for pictures on request, too.
“Every single time he came, he was humble,” Washington said. “He was a humble, gentle soul.”
In February 2020, about a month before the coronavirus pandemic began, Williams spoke at an event in New Jersey for former prisoners seeking to re-enter society.
“This Hollywood thing that you see me in, I’m passing through,” The Associated Press quoted him as saying. “Because I believe this is where my passion, my purpose is supposed to be.”
Williams never hid that his struggles with drugs persisted.
“Addiction doesn’t go away,” he told The Times in 2017. “It’s an everyday struggle for me, but I’m fighting.”
Janelle Griffith is a national reporter for NBC News focusing on issues of race and policing.
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Michael K. Williams had been open about his struggle with drug addiction – NBC News