In Memoriam: Michael K. Williams

A titan of the industry. An immeasurable loss. I fell in love with TV because of people like Michael K. Williams, people who are so charming and mesmerizing that all you can do is watch in awe and pray you’re capable of the same talent or grace, that it exists somewhere in you too. There are very, very few actors who can command a screen, a stage, even a New York sidewalk such as he did. Even his most minor roles left an impression. I loved the way his time as a dancer and choreographer informed his hypnotic whole body performances on TV, his spirited and quiet portrayals alike. Every performance, every interview elevated the humanity of the characters and communities he portrayed and did so with profound vulnerability. Those who knew him describe him as gentle and generous, and his talent rare. Those who didn’t have the pleasure describe him just the same. The recognizable cadence of a man who was familiar with life’s tragic and best. His work, his presence was a gift to us all and we owe him so much. 

The sudden death of Michael K. Williams is devastating to all those who found solace or inspiration in any number of the arts he helped define. A beautiful man. Who overcame insurmountable hardships in his life and career with the strength and grace of something fierce. The circumstance of his death does nothing to diminish that. 

As people all over the world pay tribute to an incredible man who marked American television by portraying what has been widely hailed as some of the most impactful characters on TV such as Omar from “The Wire” and “Chalky” from “Boardwalk Empire,” it is important that we pay tribute even in a place like Colgate. Because all those who hope to create in the entertainment industry have the absolute privilege to do so in his shadow. 

Like millions, I wanted to watch him grow old on screen. For a man who came so far it’s heartbreaking to not be able to see him have the privilege of rest while living, of being crowned with elder-hood, of collecting his flowers and continuing to create career defining work that can make you appreciate life’s complexities. Just three weeks ago he was being interviewed by the LA Times about the Emmy nomination he had received for his role as Montrose Freeman on “Lovecraft Country.” Fifty-four feels too young. Michael K. Williams was still in the process of becoming all he was meant to be. His greatness, his range, his depth knew no bounds. We are losing Black generational talents too soon and too often. This is the tragedy of our time and it’s grievous pattern never dulls the sting of loss. His passion inspired my own and I don’t have the words to thank him yet. 

May his talent be immortalized in our favorite movies, shows and characters, defined in the industries he helped create. May he rest in peace. May he rest in power.