A fight that erupted while actor Michael K. Williams was celebrating his 25th birthday left him with a fearsome scar down his face — and proved a turning point in his career.
The 54-year-old actor, who was found dead of a suspected heroin overdose on Monday, told National Public Radio that he sustained the gruesome injury when he went outside to get some air during a “popping party” at a bar in Queens.
“I saw that two of my other friends were being surrounded by some dudes who I didn’t know. And it looked like they were about to get jumped,” he recalled during the 2014 interview.
“And I said, ‘Yo, I’m ready to leave. Let’s go back. I’m going to go back home now.'”
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But Williams said that “this one dude kept pacing behind me.”
“He kept like, you know, like sucking his teeth, and I’m looking — I’m like, ‘Yo — so what’s up dude? Yo bro, what’s your problem?'” he said.
“And the dude wiped his hand across his mouth and just — what I thought appeared to be — smacked me, but what he did was he spit a razor.”
Willams added, “He was positioning the razor in his mouth to get between his middle finger and his ring finger, and then he just went — swiped me down my face, and this cut my face.”
“It was actually the first hit of the fight. So we managed to escape with our lives, barely, that night,” he said.
But while Williams survived the attack, the gash from the razor blade created a distinctive scar that ran down the center of his forehead, crossed the bridge of his nose and continued across his right cheek before ending near his mouth.
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At the time, Williams was working as a dancer in music videos for stars including Madonna and George Michael and while the incident left him marked for life, it also got him noticed by the directors with whom he was working.
“Things changed immediately after that. Directors didn’t want me just to dance in the videos anymore,” he said.
“They wanted me to act out these thug roles, you know, like — ‘Mike, roll these — roll these dice in this video. Have this fight in this video.’ I was like, ‘All right.'”
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A short time later, the late rapper Tupac Shakur was filming the movie “Bullet” and “happened to see a Polaroid picture of me and was like, ‘Yo, this dude looks thugged out enough that he could play my little brother,” Williams said.
That led to a role in the film and others for NBC’s “Law & Order” and HBO’s “The Sopranos,” and eventually his breakthrough role as sawed-off shotgun toting “Omar Little” on HBO’s “The Wire.”
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“I got to grow with an amazing group of people that I consider my Wire family,” he said.
“That character changed my life. And that was my big break.”