Clarence Williams III, who starred as the cool detective Linc Hayes on ABC’s “The Mod Squad,” and Prince’s abusive father in 1984’s “Purple Rain” has died. He was 81.
Williams died on June 4 in Los Angeles of colon cancer, his management company confirmed to USA TODAY.
The late actor starred on the counter-culture police series alongside Peggy Lipton (who died in 2019) as Julie Barnes and Michael Cole as Pete Cochran from 1968 to 1973. The trio portrayed young adults who had previous police run-ins, but later became LAPD undercover cops under the command of Capt. Adam Greer (Tige Andrews).
It was ground-breaking for a Black actor at the time to have the starring role during five seasons on the series executive produced by Aaron Spelling, as Williams discussed in a 1995 Los Angeles Times interview.
“It was a very different role for an African American and a wonderful lead character that a lot of youngsters, black and white, and principally African American youngsters could identify with,” he said.
Clarence Williams III (far right) starred on "The Mod Squad" with (L-R) Michael Cole and Peggy Lipton. (Photo: ABC)
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As musician and actor Lenny Kravitz said on Twitter in tribute on Sunday, “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.”
“From Mod Squad, to Purple Rain and Sugar Hill, he always performed with dynamic energy. Rest in power, king,” Kravitz added.
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. From the Mod Squad, to Purple Rain and Sugar Hill, he always performed with dynamic energy. Rest in power, king ✊🏾 pic.twitter.com/GIZLSjp4uV
Williams, born on Aug. 21, 1939, was the son of professional musician Clay Williamsand Eva Taylor, a singer and actress. His grandfather Clarence Williams was a composer-pianist and a frequent collaborator of blues legend Bessie Smith.
After enlisting in the U.S. Army and serving as a paratrooper in the 101st Airborne Division, Williams returned to acting and earned the break-out role in “The Mod Squad.”
His character’s use of the word “solid” as a positive description was one of the main “Mod Squad” terms to become incorporated into mainstream venacular.
Williams starred as Wesley Snipes’ father in 1993’s “Sugar Hill” and as a religious detective in 1992’s “Deep Cover” with Laurence Fishburne and Jeff Goldblum.
In Dave Chappelle’s 1998 stoner comedy “Half Baked,” Williams played a flamboyant local drug lord Samson Simpson.
Working with Prince on “Purple Rain,” portraying his father, was “chaotic,” but a special experience in his life, Williams told The Times.
“There was an acoustic guitar laying on the set and Prince was sitting on floor, just staring off into space and I guess he was going through the same process I was going through – thinking about what we had shot,” Williams recalled. “He just picked up the guitar and started doodling. I had my eyes closed, and I was leaning back in the chair and I thought about Jimi Hendrix. I mean he was hitting some chords and the soundstage was absolutely quiet. It was just a wonderful, wonderful experience.”
I grew up watching Clarence Williams III on the Mod Squad and of course from this memorable scene as Prince’ dad in the movie Purple Rain…dead at 81 from colon cancer. pic.twitter.com/6zQ5pong3w
He also starred as Maynard in 2013’s “Lee Daniels’ The Butler” and appeared as music legend Huey Jarvis in Daniels’ “Empire” in 2015.
Williams was married to actress Gloria Foster from 1967-84. He 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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