Michael K. Williams at the premiere of The Public, 2018 Toronto Film Festival, Photo by @GabboT
Michael K. Williams at the premiere of The Public, 2018 Toronto Film Festival, Photo by @GabboT

What will fill the void left by Michael K. Williams? Last week, Emmy-winning actor Michael Kenneth Williams, age 54, passed away in his Williamsburg penthouse. Since then, his peers and colleagues have been filling social media with tributes as to his excellence as a performer. He is one of the greatest African-American character actors of his generation. Williams was best known for playing the infamous Omar Little on The Wire, arguably the most interesting character on one of the greatest shows in the history of television. Of all the online celebrity tributes coming in, a sentence in Riz Ahmed’s tribute to Michael K Williams stands out, unforgettable: “He brought heart to art.”

Is it selfish to mourn the many great performances that have now been lost from his passing?

It is a little known fact that before he was a great actor, Michael K Williams was a background dancer. He never stopped; his continued love of dance lives on in videos on YouTube. He worked with Madonna, Missy Elliot and George Michaels, among others. He was initially inspired by the choreography of Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation, which, more than 30 years later, still reverberates throughout the culture. Williams reflected on those early days with journalist Hua Hsu:

My life felt like a dark, damp warehouse that I felt alone in. I was trapped in my own head. When I saw that video, the type of dancers she used- it wasn’t like everybody was showing their body, it wasn’t about being the sexiest. Everybody was in black, it was militant, she had tall, she had short, it just said to me, If you are sick and tired of being sick and tired, if you tired of being a victim, if you want to stand up for what you believe in: come join me. If you want to be strong: come join me. The whole thing of wearing black. It just looked so strong. It was the first time I saw myself where I could be myself and still be strong. I gravitated to it.

Still from 'Am I Typecast' with Michael K. Williams, Photo by @Katexic
Still from ‘Am I Typecast’ with Michael K. Williams, Photo by @Katexic

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