Melvin Williams, the former West Baltimore drug kingpin who helped inspire both the character of Avon Barksdale on “The Wire” and the creative partnership that led to the series, and who later had a recurring role on the show, died this morning at 73, according to the Baltimore Sun.
“Wire” co-creators David Simon (a Sun reporter at the time) and Ed Burns (then a Baltimore homicide detective) first met in the aftermath of a sprawling joint DEA taskforce investigation into Williams' organization that Burns had worked. Simon was inspired by the case to make it and Williams the subjects of his first big Sunday profile. While Simon reported the story (here's a PDF of the whole thing), he and Burns hit it off well enough that Burns would become a frequent source for Simon, and later his collaborator on the classic HBO drama.
Williams served many years in federal prison, and later reformed and worked with local pastors, per the Sun. Beginning with “The Wire” season 3, Simon and Burns gave the man once known as “Little Melvin” a recurring role as Deacon Melvin, the sage counsel to both Bunny Colvin and Cutty Wise.
Simon tweeted the following tribute to Williams:
RIP to Melvin “Little Melvin” Williams, 73, who made me begin to rethink the drug war. You ended it free, brother. pic.twitter.com/UjtshQAmzz
– David Simon (@AoDespair) December 3, 2015