Why Michael K. Williams’ Emmy loss hurt so much

Michael K. Williams stands on a rooftop with his arms on the railings and his back to the cityscape.
Actor Michael K. Williams at his Brooklyn home in August, just weeks before his death.
(Jesse Dittmar / For The Times)

While there were many victories to celebrate at the Emmys, one loss seemed to cast a cloud over the gala ceremony.

Michael K. Williams, the beloved actor who won acclaim for his dark and demanding roles in “The Wire,” “Boardwalk Empire” and several other projects, had been considered an Emmy frontrunner for supporting actor in a drama series for his fierce performance in HBO’s “Lovecraft Country.” Williams was found dead on Sept. 6 in his Brooklyn apartment.

‘The Wire’ and ‘Boardwalk Empire’ star acknowledged the pain he brought to his roles. But in his work he also found a respite.

Sept. 7, 2021

His death devastated the Hollywood community. The actor was saluted by many who had worked with him and by others who had admired his deep and complicated roles in numerous projects, particularly his turn as the lethal gangster Omar Little in “The Wire.” Others recognized his generosity and warm spirit.

But on Sunday the actor lost out to Tobias Menzies of “The Crown.” When presenter Kerry Washington announced Menzies as the winner, a wave of shock and disappointment appeared to come over the room.

Just before she announced the award, Washington seemed to set the stage for Williams to win his first Emmy in five nominations when she said, “I would like to take a moment to mention one nominee in particular —Michael K. Williams. Michael was... it’s crazy to say ‘was’... was a brilliantly talented actor and a generous human being who has left us far too soon. Michael, I know you’re here to witness this. Your excellence, your artistry will endure. We love you.”


Final voting for the Emmy Awards ended Aug. 30, a week before Williams’ death.

Even though he lost, Williams still received plenty of loving tributes on Sunday. The Baltimore Ravens played Omar’s famous whistle of “Farmer in the Dell” before their “Sunday Night Football” game with the Kansas City Chiefs. His “Wire” co-star and friend Wendell Pierce posted a shout-out on Twitter: “God Bless Michael K. Williams.”

Find out the winners of this year’s Emmys right here. We’ll be updating the list live throughout the show.

Sept. 19, 2021

The most touching salute came when the “In Memoriam” segment of the awards closed out with a video of Williams as he said, “The only way for me to say thank you is by making sure the foundation I’m standing on is strong enough to support the next person to stand on these two shoulders.”

In “Lovecraft Country,” Williams played Montrose Freeman, a troubled and angry father battling a number of personal demons. Freeman frequently lashed out at his son Atticus Freeman, played by Jonathan Majors who was nominated in the outstanding lead actor category but lost to “The Crown’s” Josh O’Connor.

In a Los Angeles Times interview, Williams said he realized that his character was not initially likable in the first few episodes.

“At face value, Montrose is just a miserable drunk. Really just mean to his son,” he said. “I subscribe to the narrative that ‘Hurt people hurt people.’ I try my best to look at the ‘Whys’ and not take things personal. Why is he so brutal to his son? ... When I got to Episode 9, I fully understood it.”