R.I.P: ‘The Mod Squad’ Star Clarence Williams III Dead At 81

Clarence Williams III has died at the age of 81.


The beloved actor, who starred as the undercover cop Lincoln Hayes on the 1968-73 ABC drama The Mod Squad, died of colon cancer on Friday, his rep Allan Mindel told The Hollywood Reporter.

Clarence Williams III was born on August 21, 1939, the son of professional musician 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 in Ain’t Misbehavin’, and Eva Taylor, a singer, and actress.

He first became exposed to acting as a teenager, when he stumbled upon a rehearsal for Dark of the Moon at the Harlem YMCA — Cicely Tyson was starring in it — and the director gave him a couple of lines in the play.

After appearing in an uncredited role in Lewis Milestone’s Pork Chop Hill in 1959 and on Broadway in 1960s The Long Dream, Williams enlisted in the U.S. Army and served as a paratrooper in the 101st Airborne Division. Once back home, he played on Broadway in The Great Indoors and served as an artist-in-residence at Brandeis University before his big break on The Mod Squad a few years later.

After that, he became known for roles like portraying Prince’s troubled father in Purple Rain, Wesley Snipes and Michael Wright’s drug-addled dad in Sugar Hill, and jazz legend Jelly Roll Morton in Giuseppe Tornatore’s The Legend of 1900. 

Williams is survived by his sister Sondra Pugh, daughter Jamey Phillips, niece Suyin Shaw, grandnephews Elliot Shaw and Ese Shaw, and grandniece Azaria Verdin.

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