Emmy-nominated actor and producer Michael Kenneth Williams was one of his generation’s most respected and acclaimed talents. By bringing complicated and charismatic characters to life–often with surprising tenderness–Williams established himself as a gifted and versatile performer with a unique ability to mesmerize audiences with his stunning character portrayals.
Born in 1966 in Brooklyn, Williams was best known for his remarkable work on The Wire(2002). The wit and humor that Williams brought to Omar, the whistle-happy, profanity-averse, openly gay drug dealer-robbing stickup man, earned him high praise, and made Omar one of television’s most memorable characters. Williams also co-starred in HBO’s critically acclaimed series Boardwalk Empire (2010), in which he played Chalky White, a 1920s bootlegger and the impeccably suited, veritable mayor of Atlantic City’s African American community. In 2012, “Boardwalk Empire” won a Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series. He received his first Emmy nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Limited Series or a Movie for HBO’s Bessie (2015) and subsequently received his second nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Limited Series for his portrayal of Freddy in HBO’s The Night Of(2016).
In 2018, Vice (2013) returned for its sixth season with an extended special season premiere produced by and featuring Williams as he embarked on a personal journey to expose the root of the American mass incarceration crisis: the juvenile justice system. The episode “Raised in the System” offered a frank and unflinching look at those caught up the system, exploring why the country’s mass incarceration problem cannot be fixed without first addressing the juvenile justice problem. Williams investigated the solutions that local communities were employing that resulted in drastic drops in both crime and incarceration. Michael garnered his first Emmy nomination as a producer for this incredible documentary and continues to host screenings across the country as a way to educate and raise awareness.
Giving back to the community played an important role in Williams’ off-camera life. He launched Making Kids Win, a charitable organization, the primary objective of which is to build community centers in urban neighborhoods that are in need of safe spaces for children to learn and play. Williams served as the ACLU’s Ambassador of Smart Justice.
Williams began his career as a performer by dancing professionally at age 22. After numerous appearances in music videos and as a background dancer on concert tours for Madonna and George Michael, Williams decided to pursue acting seriously. He participated in several productions of the La MaMA Experimental Theater, the prestigious National Black Theater Company. and the Theater for a New Generation, directed by Mel Williams.
Michael K. Williams was born, raised, and resided in Brooklyn, New York, until his death on September 6, 2021.