Michael K. Williams’ cause of death was drug overdose, authorities say


The death this month of Michael K. Williams, the Brooklyn actor most famous for his memorable portrayal of a gay wanker man in “The Wire,” was caused by an accidental drug overdose involving fentanyl, a the New York City medical examiner said on Friday.

Mr Williams, 54, was found dead in his apartment in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg neighborhood on September 6. The medical examiner said the official cause of death was “acute poisoning from the combined effects of fentanyl, p-fluorofentanyl, heroin and cocaine.”

A longtime representative for Mr Williams did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The presence of more than one drug in Mr. Williams’ system at the time of his death does not necessarily indicate whether he took those drugs together or separately, or whether he used them knowingly or unknowingly.

Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that can be 50 times more potent than heroin and cheaper to produce and distribute, has seen increased use in the United States in recent years as an alternative to heroin or prescription opioids. It has also contributed to an increase in fatal overdoses among the elderly and African Americans.

Although it is common for heroin to be mixed with fentanyl, the combination of cocaine and fentanyl recently gained attention after eight people overdosed on Long Island after taking both drugs. Six of these overdoses were fatal.

It’s impossible to know which of the drugs found in Mr. Williams’ system caused his death, or whether a lethal combination was to blame, but adulteration of fentanyl in heroin and cocaine is a growing threat.

Prior to his death, Mr Williams – best known for his role on a show dealing with drugs, addiction, corruption and the police – had openly discussed his substance abuse issues in interviews.

In 2016, he told NPR’s Terry Gross that he started using drugs during the second or third season of “The Wire,” the beloved HBO series in which he played Omar Little, a principle thief. specializing in drug dealer robbery and who former President Barack Obama once said during a campaign rally that he was his favorite character on television.

Mr. Williams met Mr. Obama, then a senator, at that rally in 2008. Mr. Williams told the New York Times in 2017 that he was high at the time and could barely speak. Hearing Mr. Obama compliment his work, he said, “woke me up”.

According to preliminary data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, drug overdoses have increased in the United States during the pandemic. In 2020, more than 93,000 people overdosed, an increase of almost 30% from the previous year.

New York City has seen a record increase in such deaths, with more than 1,600 people dying during the year and about five deaths each day, according to the New York City Office of the Special Attorney on Narcotics. The vast majority of these deaths involved fentanyl.

Mr. Williams grew up in the East Flatbush neighborhood of Brooklyn and has maintained close ties to the community even though his career has taken him apart. Residents said they were devastated by his death.

For years, Mr. Williams has participated in youth-focused events or food drives for the hungry. He was a strong supporter of criminal justice reform and an end to mass incarceration.

But his connections to his roots also came in less tangible ways: he said he constantly draws inspiration for his characters from people in the neighborhood.

Beyond “The Wire,” Mr. Williams has starred in acclaimed series like “Boardwalk Empire,” “The Night Of,” and “When They See Us,” a miniseries about the five black and Latino teens sentenced to death. wrong for rape and assault. of a white woman in Central Park. (Mr Williams was in his twenties and living in New York City when the trial took place and has said he feels a complicated connection to it.)

He received five Emmy nominations during his career, including one this year for Supporting Actor in a Drama Series for his role in “Lovecraft County.”

At the ceremony, which took place on Sunday, actress Kerry Washington stopped to pay tribute to Mr. Williams before presenting the award in its category. She described him as “a brilliantly talented actor and a generous human being”.

Ms. Washington then addressed Mr. Williams: “Michael, I know you’re here because you wouldn’t want to miss this. Your excellence, your art will endure. We love you.”

Sarah Maslin Nir contributed reporting.

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