Melvin Williams (actor)

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Melvin Williams
Born(1941-12-14)December 14, 1941
DiedDecember 3, 2015(2015-12-03) (aged 73)
Baltimore, Maryland, U.S.
OccupationCriminal, actor
Years active1960s–1980s (drug trafficking)
2004–2015 (acting)

Melvin Douglas "Little Melvin" Williams (December 14, 1941 – December 3, 2015) was an American actor and criminal. He was known for trafficking heroin in his native Baltimore, Maryland, in the 1970s and 1980s. He appeared as an actor in the HBO series The Wire, which explores many Baltimore-related subjects, including narcotics trafficking, and served as an inspiration for the character of Avon Barksdale.

Early life[edit]

Williams was born in Baltimore, Maryland.[1] His father worked as a cab driver, while his mother worked as a nurse's assistant. In the 1960s, Williams was a well known gambler and pool player in Baltimore. He gained fame in Baltimore for his role in quelling rioting in the city in the wake of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. in early April 1968. By that time, Williams already had an extensive criminal record and was involved in heroin and cocaine trafficking.

Drug trafficking[edit]

Williams was heavily involved with drug trafficking throughout the 1970s and early 1980s. In the FX documentary Tapping the Wire about the HBO show The Wire, Williams volunteers the information that he made at least "a couple hundred million [dollars]" through heroin trafficking.[2] During that time, Williams was periodically arrested on minor charges culminating in federal agents, along with the Baltimore Police Department, launching an investigation into his activities in the early 1980s. One of the Baltimore Police Department investigators working on the case was Ed Burns.

On December 6, 1984, Williams was arrested on cocaine trafficking charges. On February 7, 1985, he was convicted and sentenced to 34 years in prison. He served part of his sentence in the Lewisburg Federal Penitentiary. In May 1987, the Internal Revenue Service assessed taxes in the amount of $425,055 and seized the Williams home. While still in prison, his life story was featured in a series of articles written by future The Wire creator David Simon. "Easy Money: Anatomy of a Drug Empire", a series of five articles, was published in the Baltimore Sun in 1987. Williams was released on parole in 1996.

In March 1999, he pistol-whipped a man over a $500 debt. Williams, who at the time was on parole and had an extensive criminal record, was sentenced to 22 years in prison in December 2000 after one mistrial. However, his sentence was reduced by the same judge who imposed the original 22-year term. He was released from prison in September 2003.[3]

Acting career[edit]

Williams began to appear on the HBO show The Wire during the show's second season. He played a part referred to as The Deacon starting in the second season. The BET show American Gangster profiled Williams in one episode.[4]

In the 1999 film Liberty Heights, the character Little Melvin portrayed by actor Orlando Jones is loosely based upon Williams in the early stages of his career. Other appearances include his cameo in Baltimore hip hop duo Dirt Platoon's video for the song "Pennsylvania Avenue" in 2010.


Williams died of cancer on December 3, 2015, at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore, Maryland.[5][6]


  1. ^ Weber, Bruce (4 December 2015). "Melvin Williams, an Inspiration for 'The Wire,' Dies at 73". The New York Times. Retrieved 5 December 2015.
  2. ^ Brooker, Charlie (July 2007). Tapping the Wire. Zeppotron – via YouTube.
  3. ^ Gibson, Gail (17 January 2003). "Ex-Baltimore drug kingpin 'Little Melvin' Williams freed". The Baltimore Sun.
  4. ^ Smith, Van (19 March 2008). "Redemption Song and Dance". Baltimore City Paper. Archived from the original on 25 February 2012.
  5. ^ Kelly, Jacques (3 December 2015). "'Little' Melvin Williams, Baltimore drug kingpin who appeared on 'The Wire,' dies". The Baltimore Sun.
  6. ^ Kelly, Jacques (4 December 2015). "Melvin Williams, reformed drug dealer who had a role on 'The Wire,' dies at 73". The Washington Post. Retrieved 4 December 2015.

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