Ex-drug dealer who inspired The Wire dies at 73

melvin williams the wire hbo deacon

If you’re having a conversation about the greatest TV dramas of all-time, HBO’s The Wire is probably going to come up at some point. The show has long been admired for its nuanced take on inner-city life and its depiction of the Baltimore drug trade was as authentic as it gets.

So authentic, in fact, that many of the show’s minor characters were played by real-life Baltimore police officers, politicians, and even drug dealers. Case in point: Melvin Williams (AKA “Little Melvin”), who died Thursday at the University of Maryland Medical Center at the age of 73.

Williams — who played a street-wise deacon in the series — was once a notorious drug kingpin, but turned his life around after a stint in prison, and began working with local pastors to steer young people away from life on the street.

The Wire creator David Simon tweeted out his condolences yesterday, and credited Williams as the man who made him “begin to rethink the drug war.”

“Melvin did a lot of damage — and he’d be the first to admit it,” Simon told the Baltimore Sun. “He was a fascinating man in terms of Baltimore and what the drug war was going to do to this country.”

As a crime reporter for the Sun, Simon penned a series of articles on Williams’ life entitled Easy Money: Anatomy of a Drug Empire and the expose was one of the inspirations for the show that has defined his career.

Williams had previously told friends that he had cancer, but the exact cause of his death is still unknown.

He is survived by his wife and two daughters.