Today the world is a different place. Mother Earth is missing one of her most unique children, the laugh, ferocity, kindness, gentleness and artistry of one of her most beautiful boys, Michael Kenneth Williams. A member of this great human race, of this incredibly challenging and rewarding industry, a Brooklyn boy through and through, and one of my dearest of friends and brothers.
I met Michael on a steaming day in San Francisco. The year was 2016, and it was my first job. We were to play the same character, that of the late Ken Jones, an LGBTQ rights activist, in the mini-series “When We Rise.” Though we shared no scenes, we shared the same spirit, being assigned the same role. The time we spent eating, talking, praying, laughing, built a bond and connection that would then serve as the bedrock of our second coming together in HBO’s “Lovecraft Country.”
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Years had passed, and we had both grown as artists and as human beings. Prior to shooting, Michael reached out and we met up in New York, just to kick it. It was there a promise was made “to be our brother’s keeper.” We were to look after each other, on-screen and off. We were aware of the challenges — that the characters we were to play held a mirror up to both of us — and the expense of spirit to tell this story we both knew would require a herculean amount of our private selves.
The dynamics of storytelling are so divine and so demanding that lifetime bonds are oftentimes forged. In this case, the love, respect and trust that was shared off-screen as men, as Black men, as artists, as spiritual beings and at times tormented souls, catapulted us onto the screen. It was here I saw how much mettle Michael had, how tough and courageous, how willing he was to examine his hurt and his own joy in order to keep his brother, in order to heal the person across from him and all who were blessed enough to view his dynamic work. He was the protector of that promise.
In reflection, it becomes clear to me that such a covenant was not so novel to my big brother, Michael, as it was to me all those years ago. He was an angel — a guardian angel — a man who put others ahead of himself at every turn. He was his brother’s keeper to his last day. I can recall him picking up the bill, buying me underwear in San Francisco, as I had somehow run out of clean underthings, or teaching me the nuances of cologne and candle shopping. The last thing that was said between Michael and me just a few days ago, in closing an interview, was a simple “I love you, bro,” “I love you, bro, for real.”
On this day my heart sits in pieces, to have lost this warrior, this ferocious angel, this unique artist, my friend, the protector of the promise and my brother. Words fail, but I feel him near, watching over us all. Everyone he touched will understand that he is not far away. Though gone, he’s closer than we think. Resting finally, taking his joy and might to another space and continuing with fervor the pledge “I am my brother’s keeper,” smiling that toothy grin, his eyes shining and his raspy voice whispering, “I love you,” only now sporting his newly minted wings.
Our angel. We love you, Michael. Thank you for your protection and your light.
Jonathan Majors most recently appeared in HBO’s “Lovecraft Country,” earning an Emmy nomination for lead actor in a drama series. Michael K. Williams, a five-time Emmy nominee, including for his supporting role in “Lovecraft Country,” died Sept. 6 at age 54.
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