It is with a heavy heart that the EBONY family must say goodbye to an acting and cultural force, Clarence Williams III. The New York-born performer, who starred as the brooding undercover cop Lincoln “Linc” Hayes on ABC’s The Mod Squad, has died.
He was 81.
According to a report by The Hollywood Reporter, Williams’ management confirmed his passing in Los Angeles on Friday, June 4, 2021 of colon cancer. An intense and dynamic force on the stage and the big screen, Williams earned a Tony nomination in 1965 for best featured actor in a play for his work in the three-person drama Slow Dance on the Killing Ground.
80’s babies might recognize the Harlem native as Prince’s troubled father in Purple Rain (1984) and was Wesley Snipes and Michael Wright’s drug-addled pops in Sugar Hill (1993). Known for his prodigious afro and gap-toothed smile, Williams tapped into roles both based in reality like in The Legend of 1900 (1998) as jazz legend Jelly Roll Morton and as a member of Bumpy Johnson’s gang in Hoodlum (1997).
Williams also wasn’t shy to use his wit and humor to crack a funny bone or two, playing a former leader of the People’s Revolutionary Army in Keenen Ivory Wayans’ blaxploitation parody I’m Gonna Git You Sucka, a maniacal drug lord Samson Simpson in Dave Chappelle’s stoner class Half-Baked (1998), and in Tales From the Hood (1995), he endeared the streets forever as the otherworldly creepy funeral director Mr. Simms.
Born on Aug. 21, 1939, Clarence Williams III was the son of Clay Williams, a professional musician, and was raised by his grandparents: composer-pianist Clarence Williams and Eva Taylor, a singer and actress. His grandfather was a frequent collaborator of blues legend Bessie Smith, whose songs were later featured in Ain’t Misbehavin’. Upon getting his start in the theater, thanks to an inspiring exchange with Cicely Tyson, Williams would later enlist in the U.S. Army, and served as a paratrooper in the 101st Airborne Division.
From 1967 to 1984, he was married to Gloria Foster, an actress who played Oracle in the first two Matrix movies.
Williams is survived by his sister Sondra Pugh, daughter Jamey Phillips, niece Suyin Shaw, grandnephews Elliot Shaw and Ese Shaw, and grandniece Azaria Verdin.