The tragic and unexpected passing of The Wire and Lovecraft Country actor Michael K. Williams on Sept. 6 sent both fans and his loved ones reeling, many of whom still are, even weeks after the fact. Since the news of his death, many have honored him and his legacy, echoing a common theme: that Williams was a kind, old soul with wisdom beyond belief. Those tributes have included his co-stars, Courtney B. Vance, Jonathan Majors and Jurnee Smollett, as well as from Kerry Washington during Sunday night’s Emmy Awards, where she took a moment to honor Williams while presenting the award for Outstanding Supporting Actor, for which Williams was nominated this year.
“Michael was—it’s crazy to say Michael was—a brilliantly talented actor and a generous human being who has left us far too soon,” she said (h/t People). “Michael, I know you’re here because you wouldn’t miss this. Your excellence, your artistry will endure, we love you.”
Most recently, Gabrielle Union, Williams’ co-star in the 2018 film The Public (with Emilio Estevez) echoed those sentiments while speaking with Power 105.1's The Angie Martinez Show on Friday, Sept. 17, while promoting her new book, You Got Anything Stronger? As reported by People, Union recalled a dinner invite from Williams after wrapping the shoot one day. As the two parted that evening, “he stops on a dime and turns and looks at me and proceeds to tell me about myself,” she told Martinez.
More from People:
In her interview, she states: “I’m trying to scan my brain like, ‘Who do we have in common and who would just share this willy nilly with him?’ Then I was like, ‘Wait, I haven’t shared this with anybody,’ “ she recalled. “I was like, ‘How do you know this?’ And he was like, ‘I see it. I see you.’ And I was bawling on the streets of Cincinnati...”That was our relationship. He saw me, and he was so present and so amazing. But he also was brutally honest about his own demons and challenges. So nothing is ever a surprise in that way, because he just led with his truth in a way that was so radical and brutal and uncomfortable. You could never claim you didn’t know — not with Mike.”
Union was in France on what she has dubbed the #WadeWorldTour2021 when she heard of William’s death. While at a winery, one of the employees told Union there was a tree called the “wisdom tree”; she felt “compelled” to go and sit with the tree to speak with it, feeling Williams’ presence. Stating, “his spirit never dies,” she says she felt pure “relief” knowing he wasn’t truly gone.
The day after his death, Union posted a tribute to Williams on her Instagram with the caption:
To say I’ve struggled to find the words to adequately express my feelings about my friend Mike transitioning to the next realm, would be a massive understatement. What I want the world to know about this bright light is that he led with his truth & created a nurturing space for you to follow suit. Literally from day 1, somehow within hours, he knew me in a way that made me feel exposed but also protected. He is, (yes the present tense) a light that cannot and will not ever be extinguished. The light he illuminated was healing, compassionate and unwavering in its vibrancy. He made the time to fiercely and consistently love us all, exactly as we are. Seeing the love for [Michael] from all over let me know I didn’t imagine this angel on earth, I was just one of many that had the exceptional opportunity to live in his light. He was gracious, kind, patient and one of the most talented artists of our time. I loved him & he loved me. And I am grateful for every minute we spent laughing, crying, dancing, talking and every adventure we embarked on. Rest angel. I love you man.
As noted, Sunday, Sept. 19 brought the Emmys—and the recirculation of the hashtag #EmmysSoWhite, despite wins for Debbie Allen, Michaela Coel and RuPaul. Most people hoped—I’ve stopped using the word “assumed” when it comes to awards shows after the Chadwick/Oscars debacle—that Williams would be awarded a posthumous Emmy for his role as Montrose in HBO’s Lovecraft Country. Instead, the award went to Tobias Menzies of Netflix’s The Crown. However, in a tweet the following day, Menzies dedicated his award to Williams, writing:
Very humbled to win @TheEmmys last night, huge thanks to @TVAcademy & congrats to all my brilliant fellow nominees. But want to dedicate this to Michael K Williams, his performance as Omar in The Wire is one of the great screen performances, he will be deeply missed. RIP 🙏