Melvin Williams, a former West Baltimore drug kingpin who used to prefix his name with “Little” and later in life found fame as one of the actors on HBO’s The Wire, has died at the age of 73. No cause for his death has been revealed.
The Baltimore Sun confirmed that Little Melvin had died on Thursday morning at the University of Maryland Medical Center.
For most people, Little Melvin Williams will always be known as The Deacon on HBO’s The Wire. Williams first made his appearance as the character in the third season of the show in the episode titled “All Due Respect.”
Williams’ character is a West Side church figure that is trying to stem the influence of drugs in the area, and he acts as a guide to both Dennis “Cutty” Wise and Howard “Bunny” Colvin in this season. The Deacon would go on to appear in several episodes of season 4 too, as well as a solitary episode of season 5.
To say that Melvin was a complicated character is a huge understatement. Born in 1941, Melvin Williams became a well-known gambler and pool player in Baltimore during the 1960s. In fact, Melvin Williams was called upon by the police to help stop the 1968 riots that erupted in the city after the assassination of Martin Luther King, and even gained noteriety because of his actions.
However, by this point, he’d already developed a huge criminal record and was involved in trafficking cocaine and heroin. Little Melvin Williams went on to run the illegal drug trade on Pennsylvania Avenue in the city of Baltimore for several years. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s he was involved in heroin and cocaine trafficking across the city. His antics were so infamous that he was actually used as inspiration for the character of Avon Barksdale in The Wire.
But his actions as a drug kingpin eventually led to his arrest in 1984 and he was sentenced to serve 34 years in the federal penitentiary for his crimes.
What makes Melvin Williams’ involvement in The Wire all the more astonishing is that he was actually arrested by the writer for the show, Ed Burns. At that point in time, rather than being a television writer, Burns was a Baltimore city police officer.
David Simon, who created The Wire, even covered Melvin Williams’ arrest while working as a journalist for the Baltimore Sun. Much of the evidence that was used against Melvin Williams in his trial was gathered in a similar type of wiretap investigation to the one used in the very first season of The Wire.
Back in 1987, while writing for the Baltimore Sun, David Simon described Melvin Williams as “West Baltimore’s man child, quick witted and calculating, a prodigy from Pennsylvania Avenue’s pool halls and juke joints, where the hustler’s game was played night after night.”
After being released from prison in 1996, he reformed his ways, deciding to swear off crime and beginning to work alongside local pastors to assist people in drug-addled areas.
The early stages of Melvin Williams’ life also served as an inspiration for the character of Little Melvin, played by Orlando Jones, in the 1999 film Liberty Heights. While the film was met with positive reviews, Liberty Heights, written and directed by Baltimore native Barry Levinson, only grossed $3.7 million at the box office.
Meanwhile Melvin Williams also appeared in the music video for the Baltimore hip-hop duo Dirt Platoon’s song “Pennsylvania Avenue,” which was released back in 2010.
[Image via HBO]