Celebrities regularly get freebies just for being famous. And actor Michael K. Williams was more than happy to share the loot with his Brooklyn pals.
Boyhood friend Alvin “Supa” Washington remembers “The Wire” actor showing up for a 2002 homecoming after Washington was released from a prison stint for robbery. “Mike hugged me and gave me a box set of ‘The Wire.’ Plus there was clothing. He was being given stuff to wear, nice exclusive stuff from Phat Farm and Run DMC’s line,” he said. “He gave it to me.”
All over East Flatbush, where Williams grew up, and Williamsburg — where he was found dead in his apartment on Sept. 6 — neighbors have fond memories of the star’s generosity and humility. They’ll be watching tonight as Williams is nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Emmy for his work in HBO’s “Lovecraft Country.” It will be his fourth acting nomination.
“Seeing him win the Emmy would be so beautiful,” said Washington. “Winning it when he was alive would be sweet. This will be bittersweet, but, nevertheless, it will top off his legacy.”
Old friend LaBril McFadden agreed: “Of course I will be rooting for him, but at the end of the day, he doesn’t need the award. His heart is his biggest trophy.”
After he survived growing up in the then dangerous and drug-riddled East Flatbush neighborhood during the bloody 1980s and ’90s, friends and family are in shock that Williams was found dead of a suspected heroin overdose in his luxurious waterfront penthouse in Williamsburg.
They never suspected it could happen to Mike — the big success they were all proud of, especially since he never let fame go to his head.
Christina Reppert, a neighbor in the Williamsburg high-rise, will miss a celebrity “who was so generous and so friendly that it was a shock. My sister, who has a disability, was visiting and he would reach out to help her.”
Back on his boyhood turf, the housing complex then known as Vanderveer Estates and now Flatbush Gardens, he was, McFadden said, “an inspiration.” When they were teenagers, “He told me I could model. We became close like brother and sister. We would go on the roof to take pictures and he would play my photographer.”
McFadden, who works in the accounting department of a car dealership on Long Island, said Williams’ encouragement had a major impact on her: “He would tell me, ‘Bril, come on, we got to get out there and do it.’”
Despite a desire to rise above his origins, Williams also stayed close. Even as his career began to take off — after he had helped his mother relocate to Pennsylvania and was positioned to live wherever he wanted — he kept his crib at Vanderveer for a while. “He had another apartment in Williamsburg,” recalled Washington. “But he stayed here a lot.”
Washington, who works construction and has a job in his family’s liquor store, said he has been on the straight and narrow since prison — and some credit for that goes to the support of Williams. “He took me aside and said, ‘You gotta stay out of the way. We’re gonna do some good things,’” Washington recalled. “It was inspiring to hear that from Mike.”
Besides being an acclaimed actor on such series as “Boardwalk Empire,” “The Night Of” and “When They See Us,” Williams was also a talented dancer. He was described as a “house head” and moved to the beat wherever he found it.
“He’d ride his bike up to Commodore Barry Park [where dance parties were known to break out] and join us,” Nena Ansari, a regular at the events, told The Post. “Michael had already done ‘The Wire’ and I was, like, ‘Wow. Michael is not living on some hill in Hollywood. He is right here with us.’ He’d show up and have the time of his life.”
Years earlier, he had developed his moves at Vanderveer, where a teenage Barbra Streisand lived in the 1950s. “From day one, Michael was an open spirit,” said Washington, gesturing toward a grassy area in the complex. “We used to have dance battles over there. We put cardboard down and people would come to watch. Mike was a stand rocker: He was popping and doing things like that. Later on, he danced for celebrities.”
Washington is referring to Williams’ early gigs in some 50 music videos — including Madonna’s “Secret” and George Michaels’ “Killer.” But getting from Vanderveer to MTV was far from seamless.
At age 23 — with two grand-theft auto charges under his belt and, he told the Hollywood Reporter, a past as a “party kid … complete with party favors” — Williams was majoring in business at Borough of Manhattan Community College. He landed an entry-level job at Pfizer. But, as he told National Public Radio, he saw Janet Jackson’s “Rhythm Nation” video and “I just lost my mind. I just quit school. I quit my job. And I was, like, ‘This is it: I’m going to become a Janet Jackson dancer.’”
The move caused friction at home (Williams’ father was deceased and he was raised by a single mom who ran a daycare center). As he later said on NPR, “I … ended up homeless.” He slept where he could, survived on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and snagged a spot in dance-pop Kym Sims’ “Too Blind to See It” video.
Then disaster struck.
“I remember when he got cut,” Williams’ nephew Dominic Dupont — who said he will be accepting the Emmy if his uncle wins — told The Post. “Michael was in a nightclub celebrating his 25th birthday when he got into a disagreement and somebody slashed his face with a razor. They call that kind of cut a buck-fifty because it takes 150 stitches to seal it up. He thought it was career-ending.”
“He was down, he was upset,” Washington remembered. “He walked out of the club with a towel on his face and it looked terrible at first. But the surgeon gave him a good line and that gave him character.”
Some four years later, “Tupac [Shakur] saw a Polaroid of Mike, with the scar.” The rapper dug the street-hardened look and helped Williams get cast in the 1996 film “Bullet,” which starred Shakur and Mickey Rourke. It lit the fuse on Williams’ acting career — minor roles in “Law and Order,” “The Sopranos” and “Boston Legal” followed — and he landed his career-making role as Omar Little, the gay stickup man on the “The Wire,” in 2002.
To viewers, Williams came off as completely convincing. His friends at home knew it was pure acting. “One day I saw Michael and I said to him, ‘So where do you get all that gangster stuff for the Omar character?’” boyhood friend Ian Locke told The Post. “‘You ain’t no real gangster dude.’ His exact reply to me was, ‘I grew up around you and I’m trying to emulate your ass.’ He was being serious! I know where I was at that time and I saw it. He took some inspiration from me. That felt good.”
Even as Williams’ career was booming, he never forgot where he came from or his longtime friends.
“Every year, for my birthday, he got me a beautiful Diane von Furstenberg dress,” said McFadden. “He would send flowers and tell me he was thinking about me. I don’t know any woman in Michael’s life that he did not make feel amazing … he always told you how beautiful you were.
“He would call me and … say, ‘Get up, get dressed, I’m sending a car and we’re going to the Village.’ Then we’d go to a restaurant and just walk around the Village. Michael loved good food.”
Dupont also remembers big meals with his never-married uncle — “He loved oxtail with rice and peas, conch fritters, conch chowder” — and watching how Williams dealt with fame. “Michael often said, ‘Don’t call me my characters’ names. I’m just a guy from the community who got blessed.’”
McFadden wishes she could have had one last conversation with the man she loved like a brother. They had missed each other’s phone calls in the week before his death, she said. “I kept planning to go call him. Then I got the news.”
While Williams had admitted in a 2012 interview to doing drugs “in scary places with scary people” while starring in “The Wire, Washington can’t get past the timing of it all, figuring that Williams was beyond the danger zone.
“I said why a thousand times. Why the f–k you do that, bro?”
Watch the 73rd Primetime Emmy Awards, Sunday, 8 p.m. on CBS