The actor appeared in’Half Baked,”Twin Peaks,”’Purple Rain’ and more
Clarence Williams III, who played the trendy undercover cop Linc Hayes on the counterculture series”The Mod Squad” and Prince’s father in”Purple Rain,” has expired. He was 81.
Williams died Friday in his home in Los Angeles following a struggle with colon cancer, his former manager Allan Mindel said Sunday. Tributes came quickly on social websites from both individuals who worked with Williams and individuals who despised him for his trailblazing roles and impactful performances.
“Tales from the Hood” director Rusty Cundieff tweeted that his sadness on Williams’ departure,”can’t be overstated. His artistry and sheer coolness was extraordinary. Blessed journeys good sir!”
Lenny Kravitz wrote on Twitter,”When I was a kid growing up in NYC Clarence Williams III was a face on TV which I recognized with and that inspired me. From the Mod Squad, to Purple Rain and Sugar Hill, he consistently played with lively energy. Rush in king.”
Director Peyton Reed tweeted that he worked with Williams on the TV film”The Love Bug” in 1995.
“I had grown up seeing him as Linc at’The Mod Squad’ and thought that he was the epitome of cool. Turns out he was. Rest In Peace, Clarence,” Reed wrote.
A native of New York, Williams career spanned over five decades in theatre, television and film. He was born into a creative family in 1939 and raised by his own musical grandparents. His grandfather was a jazz composer and pianist, his father a musician and his mother, Eva Taylor, a singer and actress. He received his acting start on Broadway after a stint as a paratrooper and received a Tony nomination for his character in William Hanley’s”Slow Dance on the Killing Ground” in 1964.
His breakout role would come with”The Mod Squad,” which he led with Peggy Lipton and Michael Cole. Bill Cosby had seen Williams perform and informed Aaron Spelling he should consider him for the role of Linc. The series ran from on ABC from 1968 through 1973. A trailblazing series for attempting to portray that the hippie generation of the moment,”The Mod Squad” was a star-maker for all three. But roles were not fast to follow for Williams.
He appeared on Broadway opposite Maggie Smith in Tom Stoppard’s”Night and Day” in 1979 prior to getting cast as the troubled dad in”Purple Rain,” that came out in 1984.
Director John Frankenheimer would become a regular collaborator. They first teamed up for his adaptation of Elmore Leonard’s”52 Pick-Up” in a time when Williams was not having much luck at Hollywood and crashing Cosby’s couch to keep a roof over his mind.
“He asked me to read for the part of one of those blackmailers, but later only four lines, he told me to stop,” Williams recalled in a 1999 interview. “I thought it was all over, but he said,’Have your agent call me. It’ll be a 10-week shoot. Thank you for coming ‘ That was it.”
Williams also appeared in Frankenheimer’s”Against the Wall,””Reindeer Games” and some episodes of”Tales from the Crypt.”
Williams could command a variety of genres, including comedy. He performed a drug lord opposite Dave Chappelle in”Half Baked” and stole scenes from Keenen Ivory Wayans’ blaxploitation parody film”I am Gonna Git You Sucka.” He had a recurring role as the FBI agent in David Lynch’s”Twin Peaks” who tells Agent Cooper he’s been suspended.
Other movie roles included”Tales from the Hood,””Deep Cover,””Sugar Hill,”The General’s Daughter,” Lee Daniels'”The Butler” and an uncredited role in”American Gangster.”
Williams never fretted over his longtime association with”The Mod Squad,” though.
“All most people know about me is the two hours they have spent in a movie theater or the time spent in the front of the TV,” he explained in a meeting in 1999. “There’s so much amusement available right now, it’s hard to break through and become a part of their national consciousness. It is wonderful to be recognized, and I don’t have any issue with it at all.”