Michael K. Williams Was Open About His Addiction Struggles

Emmy nominated actor Michael K. Williams was found dead in his Brooklyn apartment on Monday, September 6th, 2021. The 54-year-old, best known for playing Omar Little on HBO’s “The Wire,” more than once spoke publicly about his substance use. He described addiction as an everyday struggle that he had to continue to fight. 

In a 2012 interview with Inside Jersey, Williams made it clear that his openness on the subject was intended to help others. The actor said, “God saved me for a purpose. So, I decided to get clean and then come clean. I’m hoping I can reach that one person.” 

Williams’s Addiction Journey

Williams, whose mother was an immigrant from the Bahamas, had a childhood characterized by sexual molestation and bullying. By age 19, Williams had developed a substance use problem and was already experiencing the cycle of treatment and relapse. To maintain his dependency on illicit substances, the actor turned to credit card fraud and carjacking which ultimately left him with an arrest record. At age 25, a mugger took a razor blade to his chest and face and gave Williams his signature face scar. The next day William’s mother took out a second insurance policy on his life and told the actor he was not likely to live past the age of 30. 

Williams’ struggles with addiction continued as his acting career began. During his time on “The Wire,” Williams got lost in the character of Omar Little, a notorious robber in the Baltimore drug scene. To cope with the intense character traits of Little, Williams began using Cocaine. According to the New York Times, he spent most of his earnings from the show on drugs which led to him being kicked out of his apartment. He began living out of hotels and also the floor of a drug house in Newark, NJ. Producers of “The Wire” have said they knew he was struggling and that they refrained from firing him in fear of how it could have worsened his substance use. 

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In his 2012 interview, Williams credited a pastor at Christian Love Baptist Church in Irvington, NJ with helping the actor to get clean. Reverend Ronald Christian, who passed away in 2015, was the first person that Williams felt he could be completely open with. 

“I laid it all out. It was the first time I really laid everything out to anyone. I was a total stranger to him, but I felt very comfortable with him,” Williams told Inside Jersey. 

The current pastor at the New Jersey church, Brandon K. Washington, has said that Williams would visit the parish unannounced a few times each year. “All the times he would come, he would always reference his struggles. He was always confident in his relationship with God,” Washington said. 

Williams continued to be open about his struggles with addiction up until February 2020 when he spoke at an event for former prisoners seeking to re-enter society. He told the group, “This Hollywood thing that you see me in, I’m passing through. Because I believe this is where my passion, my purpose are supposed to be.” 

Celebrity Overdose Deaths And The Opioid Crisis

Although the cause and manner of Williams’s death have not yet been confirmed, officials have said that Williams likely overdosed. The New York Police Department found drug paraphernalia and what appeared to be Heroin on the kitchen table in the actor’s apartment. Williams’ possible drug overdose may be added to a list of recent celebrity drug related deaths that speak to the Opioid epidemic in the US. 

Along with Williams, 2 comedians, Faquan Johnson and Enrico Colangeli, were found dead at a party in Los Angeles this past Saturday. Their deaths were determined to be overdoses after ingesting Cocaine that was laced with Fentanyl, a synthetic Opioid which can be 80 to 100 times stronger than Morphine. This substance has been frequently found laced with other substances like Heroin, pain pills, Cocaine, and even Marijuana over the past few years.

Because Fentanyl is cheaper to produce and lighter to transport, manufacturers of illicit substances may be using it for economical reasons. It is also possible that the substance becomes laced with others as a result of cross-contamination. In either case, it is extremely dangerous when those who do not have a tolerance for Fentanyl or other Opioids unknowingly consume it. Additionally, Fentanyl is almost impossible to visibly detect so determining how much has been laced is very difficult. These factors can lead to unintentional overdoses which have been on the rise. In 2020, the highest number of overdose deaths were reported in a 12-month period at 81,000 in May. Of these reported drug related deaths, synthetic Opioids were the primary cause which increased by 38%. 

Addiction Is An Everyday Struggle

Michael K. Williams was open about his struggle with substance use in an effort to help others. He wanted to let others know that an addiction doesn’t just go away and that recovery is something to work towards everyday. If Williams’ death is proven to be an overdose, along with Johnson’s and Colangeli’s deaths, they will speak to the Opioid crisis in the US which has caused an increased amount of unintentional deaths. 

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Emily Murray

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  • Emily Murray is a Digital Content Writer at Addiction Center. She earned a B.A. in Interdisciplinary Studies with Behavioral/Social Sciences and Art concentrations along with a Journalism minor from the University of Central Florida. Dedicated to creativity and conciseness, Emily hopes her words can be of service to those affected by addiction.

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