Clarence Williams III, Linc on ‘The Mod Squad’, Dies at 81

Williams’ body of work likewise included the movies The Cool World (1963), Deep Cover (1992), Hoodlum (1997), Life (1999), Impostor (2001), Constellation (2005), American Gangster (2007), A Day in the Life (2009), and Lee Daniel’s The Butler (2013) and appears on TV’s Hill Street Blues, Miami Vice, Law & Order, Everybody Hates Chris, Burn Notice, Justified, and Empire. He did return for a Mod Squad reunion telefilm in 1979. And in Tales From the Hood (1995), he had some strange stories to inform as the eerie funeral director Mr. Simms.

Williams passed away in Los Angeles on Friday of colon cancer. He was born on Aug. 21, 1939, the son of professional artist Clay Williams. He was raised by his grandparents, composer-pianist Clarence Williams, a frequent collaborator of blues legend Bessie Smith whose songs were used years later on in Aint Misbehavin, and Eva Taylor, a singer and actress.

Back home, Williams used Broadway in The Great Indoors and worked as an artist-in-residence at Brandeis University prior to his big break on The Mod Squad. He is survived by his sister Sondra Pugh, daughter Jamey Phillips, niece Suyin Shaw, grandnephews Elliot Shaw and Ese Shaw, and grandniece Azaria Verdin. He also displayed a flair of comedy, playing a previous leader of people’s Revolutionary Army in Keenen Ivory Wayan’s blaxploitation parody I’m Gonna Git You Sucka (1988) and the maniacal drug lord Samson Simpson in the traditional Half-Baked (1998), starring Dave Chappelle.

Williams went on to play FBI representative Roger Hardy on the original Twin Peaks and the humanoid Omet iklan on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

And from 2003-07, Williams depicted father figure Philby Cross opposite Kellie Martin in 10 Mystery Woman telefilms on Hallmark Channel. Linc was a very different role for an African-American and a wonderful lead character that a great deal of children, white and black, and mainly African-American youngsters could identify with. Created by Bud Ruskin, who had actually led an LAPD undercover narcotics system, The Mod Squad wound up airing for five seasons on ABC.

Williams, Peggy Lipton as Julie Barnes and Michael Cole as Pete Cochran portrayed young adults who had confrontations with the law, Linc had been detained during the Watts riots, before becoming police officers under the command of Capt. Adam Greer (Tige Andrews). An actor of unusual intensity, he began his career on the stage and earned a Tony election in 1965 for best supporting star in a play for his work in the powerful three-person drama Slow Dance on the Killing Ground. Decades later, he went back to Broadway to star opposite Maggie Smith in the initial 1979 production Tom Stoppard’s Night and Day.

Known for his prodigious afro and gap-toothed smile, Williams likewise worked routinely with renowned director John Frankenheimer, first on Elmore Leonard’s 52 Pick-Up (1986) and after that on The General’s Daughter (1999), Reindeer Games (2000) and two telefilms, the Attica-set Against the Wall in 1994 and George Wallace in 1997. After appearing in an uncredited role in Lewis Milestone’s Pork Chop Hill (1959) and on Broadway in 1960’s The Long Dream, he enlisted in the U.S. Army and acted as a paratrooper in the 101st Airborne Division. He was wed to starlet Gloria Foster (Oracle in the first two Matrix movies) from 1967-84.

Clarence Williams III, who starred as the brooding undercover cop Lincoln Hayes on the countercultural 1968-73 ABC drama The Mod Squad, has died.

Williams was 81. On the cinema, the Harlem native represented Prince’s struggling dad in Purple Rain (1984) and was Wesley Snipes and Michael Wrights drug-addled daddy in Sugar Hill (1993). In Giuseppe Tornatore’s The Legend of 1900 (1998), he used his household’s musical roots to appear as jazz legend Jelly Roll Morton.

Williams became exposed to serving as a teenager when he stumbled upon a practice session for Dark of the Moon at the Harlem YMCA, Cicely Tyson was starring in it, and the director offered him a couple of lines in the play. He owned a debt of gratitude to Bill Cosby, who had actually seen Slow Dance on the Killing Ground and recommended the actor to producer Aaron Spelling, who was casting The Mod Squad. Spelling then offered him a small part as an unwilling trip driver on an anthology series that he and Danny Thomas were producing.

Five years on the show was enough for Williams. The Mod Squad used the countercultural ambiance of the period, including timely concerns like racism, anti-war protests, and drug dependency into stories as Linc, Julie, and Pete penetrated high schools, acting classes, jails, hippie newspapers, gangs, movie sets, and so on to catch the bad men. They were most absolutely the hippest and coolest undercover police officers on tv at the time.

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