Melvin Williams Dies; The Wire Actor Was 73

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In his youth, Melvin Williams was a West Baltimore drug lord who served two nearly decades in prison after being arrested in a sting operation organized by homicide detective Ed Burns in 1984.

Many years later, when Burns was co-creating the acclaimed HBO series The Wire, he used Williams as the inspiration for ruthless kingpin Avon Barksdale - and he showed his gratitude to Williams by casting him as one of the show's most sympathetic characters:

Melvin Williams

Williams appeared as The Deacon on several episodes of The Wire during the series' third and fourth seasons. Though he'd never acted before, his authentic, compassionate performance drew raves from critics.

Interestingly, Williams crossed paths with both of the show's creators in his days as a dealer-turned-convict. 

Former journalist and The Wire executive producer David Simon wrote a revealing profile of Williams during his time with The Baltimore Sun:

"He was West Baltimore's man child," Simon wrote, "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."

At the peak of his power, Williams was such a feared and respected figure that city officials called upon him to help quell the riots that followed the 1968 assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Of course, ironically, Williams greatest legacy will always be his role in the wiretap investigation that led to his arrest  - and inspired a cop and a newspaperman to create one of TV's greatest dramas.