An ode to Michael K. Williams, the force of nature that defined The Wire 2 years ago

An ode to Michael K. Williams, the force of nature that defined The Wire

Michael K. Williams will be remembered forever.

When the news broke on Monday that acclaimed actor Michael K. Williams had suddenly passed away at the age of 54, social media quickly gave way to a chorus of sadness and tributes.

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You didn't need to scroll through Twitter for very long to see Williams' familiar features staring back at you. In almost every case, be it a video, a YouTube link, a GIF or a still image, people opted to put forth an iteration of Omar Little, the character that Williams brought to brilliant, beautiful life in David Simon's revered societal crime drama The Wire.

An established working actor since the mid-90s, Williams boasted a varied career beyond The Wire, of course, but it shouldn't be terribly disrespectful to suggest that, for many, the conversation begins and ends with Omar Little.

Again, this shouldn't be construed as some kind of knock or that Williams could only play one type of role. It is instead a reflection of just how well he portrayed Omar, a fan-favourite to the point that it is almost universally agreed upon that he is the best character in The Wire.

Omar Little The Wire

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Think about the ground that covers. Think about how many magnificently written and performed players made up that show. I'd start listing them but I'd probably list just about every major and minor screen presence that appeared over the course of all five seasons.

The Wire is rightly regarded as perhaps the best television show of the modern era, maybe even of all time. People will point to The Sopranos, perhaps Breaking Bad, maybe Mad Men. At the same time, The Wire stands alone in ambition, execution, craft and commentary. On a surface level, sure, it's entertaining, but the 'it's a 60-hour novel' pretension makes perfect sense.

You don't watch The Wire. You live with it.

A common complaint amongst first-timers is that the show takes a few episodes to really get going, that the world and the language are so dense to the point of being off-putting. It's a reasonable argument, though it's always satisfying to see that argument melt away as people stick with the first season.

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Ask anyone at what point did The Wire click into gear for them and they're likely to say the same thing – when Omar Little showed up.

Clip via SPOILER

Here was a new take on Robin Hood, a near-mythical and greatly feared anti-hero that robbed rival drug dealers while dressed like something out of a nightmare western, his signature whistle of 'A-Hunting We Will Go' the signal for anyone nearby to get the hell out of there.

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As the show progressed, Omar's philosophy only became more apparent. Instantly quotable lines like "All in the game" and "You come at the king, you best not miss" reflected the inner-workings of the highest points of Baltimore industry.

If you wanted anyone to 'win' on The Wire, it was probably Omar. And that says a lot for a ruthless killer.

The writing went a long way. Michael K. Williams went further, bringing an electric combination of authenticity, pain, fear, warmth, physicality and charisma to the character. Omar Little was a reason to tune in. Michael K. Williams was a reason to stick around.

Omar existed on the periphery but had an effect on just about everything. The scene in which he appears in court and makes a mockery of proceedings comes up regularly in Wire-related conversations, but the confrontation he has with Bunk halfway through season three lives long in the memory.

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Clip via somesta

Wendell Pierce arguably has the most to 'do' in the above scene, but watch everything that Michael K. Williams does, how he say what he says, the things left unsaid, the choices he makes with his eyes. Like so much in The Wire, it is poetry. And it takes great actors to pull that off.

Pierce's words in the wake of Williams' passing hit hard.

"The depth of my love for this brother, can only be matched by the depth of my pain learning of his loss," he said. "An immensely talented man with the ability to give voice to the human condition portraying the lives of those whose humanity is seldom elevated until he sings their truth.

"If you don’t know, you better ask somebody. His name was Michael K. Williams. He shared with me his secret fears then stepped out into his acting with true courage, acting in the face of fear, not in the absence of it. It took me years to learn what Michael had in abundance."

You'll find similar tributes all across the Internet today and in the days to come. The fate of Omar Little is deliberately shocking and throwaway; his ultimate legacy not appearing to really matter in the grand scheme of things, his body misidentified, his exit left out of a newspaper because of a lack of print space.

In real life, Michael K. Williams will be remembered forever.

Omar Little is one reason why but we shouldn't forget his powerhouse emotional performance as Chalky White in the underrated Boardwalk Empire, nor his more functional turns in films such as Gone Baby Gone, 12 Years a Slave and Triple 9.

Simply put, he elevated every project that he put his name towards. The acting world is lesser without him. Hell, the world as a whole, for the human being was just as complex, multi-layered and worth celebrating.