Renowned actor Michael K. Williams died suddenly on Monday at the age of 54. The multiple Emmy-nominated New York native will be remembered for his consistently scene-stealing turns in larger-than-life roles, most notably his iconic portrayal of Omar Little, the shotgun-toting, openly gay drug-game Robin Hood, on HBO‘s The Wire—widely considered to be among the greatest TV shows ever made. Before getting his start as an actor, however, Michael Kenneth Williams embarked on his entertainment career by way of a different creative medium: dance.

After frequently finding himself in trouble with the law during his youth in Brooklyn, Williams was inspired by the blossoming success of his old friend, Dana Owens—better known today as Queen Latifah—to pursue a career in the entertainment industry. While he first enrolled at the National Black Theatre, an epiphany brought on by a pop legend prompted him to change course.

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As Williams told Queen Latifah when he appeared on her talk show in 2014, “I saw a Janet Jackson video and lost my mind, it was ‘Rhythm Nation’, and then my lightbulb went off. I was like, ‘that’s what I’m gonna do, I’m gonna go become a backup dancer for Janet Jackson!'”

“I found my niche,” Williams added to the decorated rapper, actress, producer, and TV personality. “That never happened, I never got to dance with Janet Jackson, but I did end up having a pretty good career as a dancer. I got to travel the world and work with a lot of beautiful people, but that inspiration, the fact that I can even think about that, it came from watching you become Queen Latifah.”

Michael K. Williams, The Dancer – The Queen Latifah Show

[Video: Queen Latifah]

Williams went on to notch some notable credits as both a dancer and a choreographer, touring with a range of high-profile artists from George Michael to Madonna. Williams also choreographed and led the three-man dance routine featured in the music video for Crystal Waters‘ 1994 hit, “100% Pure Love”.

Crystal Waters – “100% Pure Love” (Official Video, Choreographed by/Starring Michael K Williams)

[Video: CrystalWatersVEVO]

Even as his acting star rose with the critical and cult success of The Wire, the man behind Omar continued to appreciate the role dance played in his growth as a person and performer. As Williams told Sky News in 2016 about his relationship to dance, “You know, I was angry and I had a lot of energy. I was very angry, and a lot of my anger was turned inward, you know? I hurt myself a lot.”

“But I was angry none the same, and dancing was, like… I look back at a lot of my choreography my energy,” he trailed off, searching for the right words. “It was like a battle cry. … It was such an outlet. I was not the best dancer, you know, by far, but I was definitely the most passionate. I always had this energy, you always felt me whether I was in sync or not with the other guys [laughs].”

Michael K. Williams Dancing In NYC Park, 2020

[Video: Manny Almonte]

Rest in power to a one-of-a-kind presence in the entertainment world.