Remembering Michael K. Williams (1966 - 2021)
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On the 6th September 2021, news broke about the death of actor Michael K. Williams, best known for his portrayal of 'Omar Little' in HBO's 'The Wire'
Back in 2016, Michael played two characters in the Assassin's Creed Movie: Moussa, a Modern Day Assassin, and his ancestor Baptiste.
The sad news came as a shock to many, with thousands of tributes coming in from around the world. Here we will be rounding up some of the Assassin's Creed community reactions from those who knew Michael.
Family statement: “It is with deep sorrow that the family announces the passing of Emmy nominated actor Michael Kenneth Williams. They ask for your privacy while grieving this unsurmountable loss.’' (via spokeswoman Marianna Shafran)
Michael Kenneth Williams was born on the 22nd November 1966 in Brooklyn, New York City. His professional career began at the age of 22, when he became a dancer / performer. Early on, it was clear that Michael had talent, and he started his career by taking part in music videos as a background dancer, which led to him performing in concert tours alongside George Michael and Madonna. Next, he took his passion a step further, and worked as a choreographer, creating dance routines for music videos and tours. His career went in a fresh direction when he decided to go into acting, something which he felt was more fulfilling.
On his 25th birthday, Michael and his friends were attacked in a bar, resulting in him getting his recognisable facial scar. A razorblade cut Michael's face, leaving the scar that ran the length of his face. In 2014, he opened up about the attack, and acknowledged how fortunate he and his friends had been to leave the bar alive that night. He also acknowledged that the scar made his face more memorable, and even opened doors in the industry, propelling his career forward. Casting directors began to typecast Michael as the 'thug', placing him in roles involving gangs and crime. In 1996, he was discovered accidentally by Tupac Shakur, who saw a polaroid picture of the young actor. Shakur was filming the movie 'Bullet', and commented that Williams looked 'thugged out enough that he could play my little brother". This gave Williams his big break, but just weeks after the film released, the influential rapper was shot dead aged 25.
The roles he initially played did not reflect his own personality. ''I was never a thug. I never even liked to fight.''. The loss of Tupac Shakur weighed heavily on his shoulders, and in 2014, he reflected on the lessons he learned from the rapper. ''I was very blessed, very humbled, to be there as an actor in his presence and I just did a lot of listening. Very early on, he showed me how to command the set – to lock it down. He showed me how, on a certain level, to get things done."
In 2004, Williams suffered an identity crisis when playing the role of Omar Little in HBO's 'The Wire', taking on the name for himself, and turning to drugs like cannabis and cocaine. His personal struggle with addiction was a battle that would last a lifetime. It is reported that his tragic death was due to a suspected overdose. ''I was using Omar as a means of escape. Now I don’t use my job as a way to define me: it’s what I do, not who I am. I have that understanding now.”. The lines between reality and fiction blurred, as he struggled to find a positive way to deal with his problems. After the series ended, he played less intense roles that did not affect his personality, allowing himself to have more control over his actions.
Giving back to the community was a big part of Michael's life, as he wanted others to have opportunities from a young age. He launched the non-profit organisation Making Kids Win (MKW) , which develops community centers that provide a judgment-free and safe zone for all children. MKW also aims to change the odds for youth growing up in communities experiencing crushing poverty by providing programming and resources to create positive alternatives. Michael never forgot his roots, and lived in Brooklyn his whole life, despite its problems. Instead of looking the other way, he made a difference by launching the MKW organisation, which will continue to provide a safe haven for all who need it.
Michael had a fascinating life, and it really is tragic to read about how it was cut short due to his battle with addiction. Despite the violence that surrounded him growing up, it's clear that Michael had a good heart, and really wanted to make a difference to his community. By setting up MKW, his legacy will live on and continue to provide safety and resources for those who need it. He never forgot his roots. The devastating news will no doubt leave a huge hole in the hearts of those who knew him.
The Assassin's Creed Movie is a film that has had a tremendous impact upon me, and Moussa was such a great character that pushed Callum Lynch to become the Modern Day Assassin he needed to bein order to leave the facility. Although Moussa was initially the outcast, he had the ability to bring people together, and I feel that Michael had this quality too. I would personally love to see Assassin's Creed transmedia projects in future that feature Moussa, and pay tribute to the great Michael K. Williams.
May he rest in peace.
Octavia Selena Alexandru (Lara from AC Movie)
"I was twelve years old when I first met Michael and worked with him on a film set. He was extremely kind and supportive. Both him and Matias Varela nicknamed me “Number One”, and he always made me smile. Not only encouraging me but telling us how proud was he working with me.
Kind and down to earth.
I was too young at that time to realise how blessed I was when Such Star, Such Artist with so many extraordinary stories to tell, stopped from his own time and talked to me about my work.
I have tears in my eyes, and I can't stop thinking of his unexpected death.
Rest in peace, precious friend and lovely soul, Michael K. Williams. I will treasure all those memories all my life.
Thank you for your lovely friendship."
Aymar Azaïzia (Transmedia and business development Director for Ubisoft)
"I was lucky enough to meet him on Assassin’s Creed movie. He was such a gentle, generous and funny man. We lost another gem."
Tim Wildgoose (Assassin's Creed Movie Armourer)
"Had a stint working with Michael K W a few years back when he played Moussa in Assassins Creed.
Very chill and gentle guy. Funny anecdote, he once asked me to share a blunt with him inside Freemasons Hall London.
I reckon he will always be the only guy to ever smoke weed in there."
Joe Utichi (Journalist and Writer)
"Worked with Michael K. Williams (briefly) on Assassin’s Creed. He brought calm to disorder and was magnetic to be around and talk to. I thought of him often after that job. What a tragic loss. RIP."
Karim Jovian (Digital Medis Producer)
"Rest in Peace Michael K. Williams. I remember meeting you at dinner after the Assassin's Creed Premiere, you were so kind and inviting, the others made me feel unwelcome, you did not. Let alone how talented you were. You will truly be missed."
Matias Valela (Emir in the Assassin's Creed Movie)
"This is horrible. You were a real friend and one off the very best in the business I will miss you my friend Rest In Peace Michael K Williams my thoughts are with your children and your closest family 💔"
Michelle Lin (Lin in the Assassin's Creed Movie)
"I knew Michael for a brief moment but he was kind to me. We spent an entire day filming this scene. Michael's lines were originally longer and he did countless variations from serious to silly to a singsong version and everything in between. His voice was hoarse by the end of the day. It was an incredible learning experience to watch him. Rest in peace Michael K. Williams."