Melvin Williams, a former drug trafficker who was an inspiration for HBO’s The Wire and later acted on the show, has died, The Balitmore Sun reports. He was 73.
Williams was known for his status as a ruler within Baltimore’s narcotics trafficking circles from the ’60s to the ’80s before beginning what was supposed to be a 34-year prison sentence in 1985. Eventual The Wire creator David Simon profiled Williams for The Baltimore Sun in 1987 (which you can read in full here), just less than a decade before Williams was released on parole in 1996.
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Williams went on to appear in a small recurring role on The Wire — where he worked with series writer and producer Ed Burns, a former homicide detective who had actually been on Williams’ case in the ’80s — from 2004 to 2008 as The Deacon, a mentor of sorts to Cutty (Chad Coleman), a one-time drug dealer who goes on to found a boxing gym for local kids with the help of the deacon’s encouragement.
Simon honored Williams on Twitter Thursday with a photo of the late actor and a message: “RIP to Melvin ‘Little Melvin’ Williams, 73, who made me begin to rethink the drug war,” he wrote. “You ended it free, brother.”