Clarence Williams III, who racked up 99 acting credits over a six-decade career in Hollywood and played more than a few memorable roles, died in Los Angeles on June 4, 2021, at age 81.
Williams didn’t join the Army until after his uncredited movie debut in the 1959 Korean War movie “Pork Chop Hill” starring Gregory Peck. Director Lewis Milestone previously won an Oscar for directing the 1930 Best Picture and World War I classic “All Quiet on the Western Front.”
Williams then joined the Army and served as a paratrooper in C Company, 506th Infantry, of the 101st Airborne Division.
Williams was the grandson of jazz pianist Clarence Williams, who’s credited with writing such standards as “My Bucket’s Got a Hole in It,” “Ain’t Nobody’s Business If I Do” and “Baby Won’t You Please Come Home.” His father, Clay, was also a musician.
Williams finally got his big break in 1968.
Linc Hayes (‘The Mod Squad’) 1968-73
When ABC cast Williams as an undercover cop with a giant Afro, the network likely wanted to downplay the actor’s military service. After all, the show was aimed at getting young audiences to watch a traditional police show just as protests against the Vietnam War were becoming common on college campuses.
Williams and his fellow “hippie cops,” Peggy Lipton and Michael Cole, used their hip personas to get close to young criminals and bring them to justice. The show ran for five seasons and regularly featured topics too socially aware for the old-school fuzz on “Dragnet.”
Prince’s Dad (‘Purple Rain’) 1984
As the son and grandson of jazz musicians, Williams was particularly qualified to play the pianist father of Prince’s character in “Purple Rain.” Allegedly based on Prince’s own musician father, the character captured the frustration of a talented artist who never gets the recognition he or she deserves.
When Williams signed up for the part, no one in Hollywood was paying much attention to a low-budget movie starring a successful-but-not-yet-huge recording artist.
Special Agent Roger Hardy (‘Twin Peaks’) 1990
As “Twin Peaks” got even weirder in its second season, FBI headquarters got worried about what exactly Special Agent Dale Cooper was up to in the Pacific Northwest, especially his incursions into Canada. The bureau sent Internal Affairs agent Roger Hardy to Twin Peaks to inform Cooper of his suspension and take his gun and badge.
This role is notable for Williams’ trip to the Double R Diner, where he orders a slice of the famous pie from Norma Jennings, played by former “The Mod Squad” co-star Peggy Lipton.
Mr. Simms (‘Tales from the Hood’) 1995
Williams plays a funeral home owner in this influential horror comedy. He claims to have “found” a large cache of drugs and tells a series of stories about the dead bodies in his care as he leads three young L.A. drug dealers to his stash.
Williams goes all the way over the top as he builds toward the big plot twist at the end, the kind of surprise ending familiar to anyone who’s ever swapped ghost stories in the dark.
Omet'iklan (‘Star Trek: Deep Space Nine’) 1996
Williams made a one-off appearance in the “To the Death” episode of the “Star Trek” spin-off series, but his quiet-but-menacing presence and outstanding makeup made a huge impression on Trekker fans.
Those fans will tell you that Williams’ role marks the first appearance of the Weyoun, a race of clones created by the Dominion to carry out diplomatic and supervisory tasks throughout the galaxy. Like all things “Star Trek,” this attempt to translate deep series lore into mainstream entertainment coverage likely will not be 100% accurate and deeply offend the faithful. Apologies in advance.
If you’re curious to learn more about Williams, also check out his work with director and Air Force veteran John Frankenheimer in 1986's "52 Pick-Up," 1994's "Against the Wall," the 1997 TV movie "George Wallace" and 2000's "Reindeer Games."
If you’re really curious, track down “Tough Guys Don’t Dance,” the outrageous 1987 movie written and directed by the controversial novelist and World War II Army veteran Norman Mailer. There’s also director Michael Almereyda’s profoundly weird sci-fi mystery film “Happy Here and Now,” set in New Orleans neighborhoods soon to be destroyed by Hurricane Katrina.
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