Is Being “California Sober” Really Being In Recovery?
The idea of somebody who is in recovery from addiction and describes...
Actor Michael K. Williams, best known for his iconic role as Robin-hood-esque robber of drug dealers Omar Little in HBO’s acclaimed “The Wire,” was recently found dead of a suspected overdose on September 6th. Though a toxicology report has yet to be released, several news outlets have reported that heroin was found near his body.
Though authorities are searching for the dealer responsible for providing him with the drugs, there is no other evidence of foul play. Some have suspected heroin contaminated with the uber-lethal fentanyl as the probable culprit while others have suggested mixed drug toxicity involving cocaine, amphetamines, and benzodiazepines.
But, as shocking and heartbreaking as this turn of events has been, it isn’t coming completely out of left field. Williams has been quite open about his long-term struggle with addiction, which began when he was only a teenager.
Williams grew up in public housing in a rough, poverty-stricken area of Brooklyn known as Vanderveer. He was sexually molested as a young boy and then experienced bullying from peers who sensed his fragility, traumas that informed his empathetic and nuanced performances as well as lay the groundwork for his problems with substance use.
When he was 25, he stepped in to try and intervene in a friend’s mugging and was slashed across the face by one of the attackers and left with a distinctive scar. Though he had previously worked in the entertainment industry as a backup dancer, the scar ended up opening up new possibilities for Williams, since he now looked perfect for the part of a variety of rough-around-the-edges characters.
He landed parts in “Bullet,”“Bringing Out the Dead,” and “The Sopranos,” before getting his big break on “The Wire.” His character challenged stereotypes of black masculinity with his homosexuality and tenderness, showing how toughness and softness could co-exist in the same soul.
Omar was a huge hit, both in the mainstream and in the community Williams came from.
“He’s representing the people of this neighborhood to the world,” a Vandermeer peer reflected in the New York Times piece, calling him “prophet of the projects.”
But Williams found himself tormented by the dark psyche of his character, one of the factors that led to a major relapse during the show’s filming. He was blowing most of his earnings on cocaine and showing up to set high before a chance encounter with Barack Obama (a big fan of his character) inspired him to get clean, at least for the time being.
“Addiction doesn’t go away,” he reflected in a 2017 interview with the New York Times.
“It’s an everyday struggle for me, but I’m fighting.”
Williams also hoped to use his experience with addiction to help others, having had plans to produce a documentary about the condition.
“I thought, ‘Why me? Why did I get spared?’ I should’ve been dead,” Williams said in a 2012 interview.
“I have the scars. I’ve stuck my head in the lion’s mouth. Obviously, God saved me for a purpose. So, I decided to get clean and then come clean. I’m hoping I can reach that one person.”
Reflecting on an addiction-related movie role, Williams has also spoken about the fact that abstinence is only the beginning when it comes to recovery.
“People often think that when a person puts down the drugs or the alcohol, that all the problems go away. That couldn’t be further from the truth,” he said.
“Drugs and alcohol are not the problems, they’re merely symptoms of the problem. And once those things go away, the real work begins, you know … working on all the character defects, the moral compass — the skewed moral compass.”
Williams also memorably appeared in the series “Boardwalk Empire,” “The Night Of,” “When We Rise,” and “When They See Us,” as well as the films “The Road”, “12 Years a Slave”, “Inherent Vice”, and “Motherless Brooklyn”.
And he was a dedicated activist, outspoken about issues like racism and prison reform, including as the American Civil Liberties Union’s ambassador for ending mass incarceration. He also founded a charity called Making Kids Win that seeks to “change the odds for youth growing up in communities experiencing crushing poverty by providing programming and resources to create positive alternatives.”
So, while Michael K. Williams may have lost the battle to his addiction in the end, there’s no reason to let the way his life ended outshine his amazing talent and incredible spirit. With any luck, his legacy will help inspire the better world that he hoped for.
If you or someone you love is currently struggling with drug addiction, know that your story doesn’t have to end the same way. At Reco Intensive, our comprehensive treatment program and professional staff can help you address the underlying issues that fuel your substance abuse and pave your way for a lasting recovery. Call us today at (561) 464-6533. Let’s get back to a brighter future.
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