Michael K. Williams left an intense and lasting impact on television and film during his nearly three decades on the screen. While friends, fans, and co-stars are still reeling from the shocking news of the prolific actor’s sudden death on Sunday, the memory of his beloved characters leaves us all reminiscing fondly on his acting skills and the passion displayed in his iconic roles. From Boardwalk Empire to The Wire, Williams delivered some of the most memorable performances in these series, often turning would-be side characters into series favorites.
In remembrance of his invaluable contributions to entertainment, we remember five of the roles that made him a fixture in some of our most beloved drama series.
Montrose Freeman: Lovecraft Country
Williams’ turn as the conflicted and complicated patriarch of the Freeman family brought some grounding humanity to the critically acclaimed horror series that became a near-instant hit in 2020. His tortured performance as a survivor of the Tulsa massacre and closeted man inflicting his own generational trauma on his son got tongues wagging about taboo issues in the Black community in the midst of monsters and magic.
Bobby McCray: When They See Us
Williams earned an Emmy nomination for his heart-wrenching performance as the late father of Exonerated 5 member Antron McCray. The inner conflict and lifelong guilt McCray felt after tragically convincing his own son to sign a false confession under police pressure was palpable through the screen in this decorated and acclaimed drama depicting the plight of the falsely accused.
Freddy Knight: The Night Of
Williams left fans wondering if he was truly a friend or foe to our protagonist Naz in HBO’s Emmy-winning suspenseful 2016 eight-part crime drama with his turn as prison OG Freddy Knight. Though Freddy was always helpful and rife with valuable advice for the vulnerable murder suspect, Williams’ performance left us questioning his motives and wondering what danger may be bubbling under the surface until his true intentions were revealed.
Boardwalk Empire: Chalky White
As a gangster working his way up through the ranks of the Atlantic City underworld during prohibition in the early 1900s, Chalky White’s no-nonsense attitude and ruthless methods made him a formidable figure, but his insecurities and vulnerabilities as a family man and partner-led to tragic consequences. Williams’ portrayal lent a raw realness to this gangster as we followed his tumultuous rise and fall, making his side-storyline the main one we hungrily tuned in for each week.
Omar Little: The Wire
Perhaps his most culturally impactful role, Williams’ breakout turn as universally feared street bully and stickup man Omar Little is almost synonymous with his name and image. You’d be hard-pressed to find a fan who sees Williams’ characteristically scarred face and doesn’t automatically recall their favorite moment from “The Wire” or perhaps a favorite line of his. Williams as Little helped solidify the crime drama as essential viewing to secure your figurative “Black card.” Nearly two decades later, everyone still knowswhat it means when his character appears on-screen strolling down the street in his signature dark trenchcoat and shotgun in tow, and someone offscreen declares “Omar comin’!”