Clarence Williams III, who broke new ground as “hippie” Detective Linc Hayes on “The Mod Squad” from 1968 to 1973, has died after a battle with colon cancer. He was 81.
Williams passed away Friday at his home in Los Angeles, his manager Allan Mindel confirmed in a statement Sunday.
Born Aug. 21, 1939, in New York City, the veteran talent got his big break on Broadway. He earned a Tony nod as best featured actor for his stellar work in 1964’s “Slow Dance on the Killing Ground,” launching a career that spanned five decades onstage and in television and film.
Although best known for his TV work in “The Mod Squad,” Williams III also had scene-stealing roles in a pair of big-screen cult classics: He played Prince’s flawed father — the guy who inspired “When Doves Cry” — in 1984’s “Purple Rain,” and played way against type as flamboyant drug lord Samson Simpson in Dave Chappelle’s cult classic stoner comedy “Half Baked” in 1998.
Still, it was his ultra-cool counter-culture cop that fans remembered best — and he didn’t mind one bit.
“All most people know about me is the two hours they’ve invested in a movie theater or the time spent in front of their TV,” Williams III said in a 1999 interview, according to the Daily Mail. “There’s so much entertainment out there right now, it’s difficult to break through and become part of the national consciousness. It’s nice to be recognized, and I have no problem with it at all.”
His enduring work left an indelible mark on generations of fans.
“When I was a kid growing up in NYC, Clarence Williams III was a face on TV that I identified with and that inspired me,” singer-actor Lenny Kravitz, 57, said in a homage to the late actor. “From the Mod Squad, to Purple Rain and Sugar Hill, he always performed with dynamic energy. Rest in power, king.”
The actor’s myriad other small-screen credits include guest-starring roles on “The Cosby Show,” “Hill Street Blues,” “T.J. Hooker,” “Miami Vice,” “Tales from the Cyrpt,” “Star Trek” and “Twin Peaks” opposite his old “Mod Squad” co-star Peggy Lipton.
His other feature film appearances include “The General’s Daughter,” “Reindeer Games,” “I’m Gonna Git You Sucka” and “The Butler.”