Michael Kenneth Williams died over the weekend from what authorities suspect was a heroine-induced overdose. He was found dead Monday in his Brooklyn penthouse after he failed to show up to an event Saturday. Authorities are still trying to figure out what happened and where the drugs he used came from.
According to officials, there was “no foul play indicated,” in his apartment. They also claimed there was “no forced entry,” and “the apartment was in order.” At the moment, law enforcement officials do not believe Williams’ death was a homicide, though it is still under investigation.
The city Medical Examiner’s Office was at his building Monday afternoon, reports claimed. An autopsy report has not been returned as of Tuesday morning. The cause of death has not been formally identified.
The Academy Award-nominated actor was a profound performer known for his work as Omar Little on HBO’s The Wire, and for Chalky White on HBO’s Boardwalk Empire. He also played Hack Gee in the HBO telefilm biopic, Bessie.
Michael K. Williams’ death was announced in a statement from his rep, Marianna Shafran. They said that “it is with deep sorrow that the family announces the passing of Emmy-nominated actor Michael Kenneth Williams. They ask for your privacy while grieving this insurmountable loss.”
Williams was a prolific actor who was set to win his first academy award this year. Among his many acting credits, the actor is best known for his work with HBO. The network released a statement Monday, saying that “we are devastated to learn of the passing of Michael K. Williams, a member of the HBO family for more than 20 years.”
The statement continued, claiming that “while the world is aware of his immense talents as an artist, we knew Michael as a dear friend who was beloved by all who had the privilege to work with him. We send our deepest condolences to his family for this immeasurably loss.”
Michael Kenneth Williams has been open about his experience with drugs. His on-screen character in The Wire is known for robbing drug dealers with a sawed-off shotgun, though according to the actor, it was that experience that affected him in real life. Getting into the role of Little, as well as other intense roles, took a psychological toll on him.
In 2016, Williams told NPR that “when I wear these characters to the extent that I wear them to, that [energy’s] gotta go somewhere. Omar Little’s dark energy was a little too close to home.” While filming The Wire, Michael Kenneth Williams became addicted to drugs and at one point, even sought help from a church in New Jersey.
“When I came through those doors, I was broken,” he said during the interview. “This was, I would say, around the … third season of ‘The Wire. I was on drugs. … I was in jeopardy of destroying everything I had worked so hard for, and I came in those doors, and I met a [paster] who had never even heard of ‘The Wire,’ much less watched it.’”
Williams continued, recalling that “I wrote my full name down — Michael Kenneth Williams — and in the office, [the pastor] turns around, and he says, ‘So what do you want to be called, man?’ I said, ‘Well, you know, my name is Michael, but I could do Mike.’ He says, ‘Why does everybody say, ‘Omar, Omar’s in trouble?’ And I was like, ‘Oh, this dude is clueless [about The Wire].’”
The actor explained in the interview that he started practicing prayer and meditation, which helps him separate from his troubled characters. He claimed he found the tools to pull himself out of the psyche of those intense dramas.
Despite having to cope with addiction, Michael Kenneth Williams was able to use his job and platform for good. In 2015, he became an “ambassador for ending mass incarceration” for the American Civil Liberties Union. “My goal is to end mass incarceration and to have more dialogue about how can we stop the government filling up jails with low-level, non-violent drug offenders and people with mental illnesses or addictions,” Williams explained. “Those are health issues, not criminal.”
Before his death, Williams had filmed most of the second season for his hit Vice TV series, Black Market. The unscripted series explores underground economies around the world. While much of it had been completed, it’s unclear what the network will do to fill the gap Williams has left.
“We are truly saddened by the sudden passing of Michael Kenneth Williams, a true icon and a longtime friend of our Vice family,” Vice Media Group said in its statement. “Michael was a cultural visionary and a pillar of the community in his home, and ours – Brooklyn. The impact of this loss will be felt close to home and beyond for many years to come. Our deepest condolences go out to his family and loved ones.”