The Wire actor Michael K. Williams struggled with drug addiction for years before he was found dead in his Brooklyn penthouse. He reportedly spent time in therapy.
Williams was found dead Monday and police have not been able to identify his cause of death. Reports did claim that there was drug paraphernalia found in his apartment, leading police and fans to believe that he overdosed over the weekend.
But The Wire actor had been struggling for a while, reports showed. Before his death at age 54, Williams talked about his mental health treatment. Williams previously revealed that he went to therapy after filming HBO’s Lovecraft Country for which he was nominated for an Emmy. While the performance was incredible, the content of the show was difficult to cope with and Williams needed help.
In an interview on the Tamron Hall Show, Williams claimed that he was taking therapy seriously. “I just started therapy, you know,” he explained. He claimed he was “really taking that seriously and starting to unpack like you said, the critic in my head and what and how that has affected my – my actions, y responses to certain situations, my relationships.”
The Wire actor was promoting his new movie, Body Brokers, which deals with drug treatment in Los Angeles. The content of the drama brought Williams’ past drug abuse issues to the forefront of his mind. The story, which deals extensively with capitalism and exploitation of the rehab industry, reportedly made him “sick to my stomach” and reminded him of commercials for lavish treatment facilities.
He claimed during the press tour that “drugs and alcohol are not the problems, they’re merely symptoms of the problem. And once those things go away, the real work begins, you know…working on all the character defects, the moral compass — the skewed moral compass.”
Williams continued, telling the host of the Tamron Hall Show that “those are the things that need to be addressed. Those are the reasons we got high in the first place, and our inability to deal with life on life’s terms.”
Michael K. Williams was open about his personal experience with addiction and drugs abuse for years. In 2016, while his character Omar Little from The Wire was still fresh in his mind, he told NPR that “when I wear these characters to the extent that I wear them, that [energy’s] gotta go somewhere.”
The Wire actor explained that Omar Little’s dark energy “was a little too close to home.” He also said that while filming The Wire, he became addicted to drugs. He claimed he used drugs to hide from his bigger problems.
He said that “I didn’t feel worthy of opportunity like [the role on ‘The Wire’], and when I was given this character, Omar, I could’ve used it as a tool, as a nurturing tool for myself. It could’ve been cathartic for me, [but] I decided to wear it as a Spider-Man suit and just fly around and go, ‘Whee! Look at me! I got web in my hands!’ Instead of actually doing the work and finding out how I could use this character to make myself feel better about [myself], I used it instead of me. It was like my crutch.”
In the same NPR interview, Williams recalled a story when things had gotten out of control and he was forced to seek help from a church in New Jersey.
“When I came through those doors, I was broken,” he admitted 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.’”
The Wire actor 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].’”
After the incident in 2016, Williams started practicing prayer and meditation. Those practices helped him separate from his troubled characters. He claimed they were the tools that allowed him to pull himself out of the psyche of those intense dramas.
In a 2020 interview with Men’s Health, Michael K. Williams explored even deeper his relationship with drugs. He also revealed his past suicidal thoughts.
“Pain. In a word, a lot of pain. A lot of trauma early on that I didn’t have the proper tools to deal with,” Williams admitted. “My mom was very strict. The beatings were very severe growing up. She was determined to not have her two sons run amok.” It was his mom’s protective nature that eventually led him down a dark path – feelings of inadequacy followed. As did his suicide attempt.
“I was 17,” he explained. “I was lost. I was very awkward with the ladies. Drugs were there. And I was already self-medicating. And I just got lost. I just remember feeling like, ‘Eh, maybe the world will be better off without me.’ And I took a bottle of pills, woke up to my stomach being pumped.”
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.”