The Story Behind Michael K. Williams' Face Scar — and How It Helped Launch His Career

The Wire star died Monday at age 54

Michael K. Williams made a habit of seeing the silver lining.

The late Wire actor, who died Monday at the age of 54, previously opened up about how he got the distinctive scar on his face during a "barroom brawl" — and how he believed the altercation ultimately launched his Hollywood career.

"On my birthday — my 25th birthday — I got cut in my face in a barroom brawl," he told NPR in 2014. "There was a popping party going on in Queens. I went outside to get some air, and I saw that two of my other friends were being surrounded by some dudes who I didn't know. And it looked like they were about to get jumped. And I said, 'Yo, I'm ready to leave. Let's go back. I'm going to go back home now.'"

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He continued, "But this one dude kept pacing behind me. He kept walking behind me. He kept like, you know, sucking his teeth. And I'm looking, I'm like, 'Yo — so what's up dude? Yo bro, what's your problem?'"

michael k. williams
Arturo Holmes/Getty Images

Williams said he thought the man was preparing to "smack" him but had actually procured a razor blade.

"He was positioning the razor in his mouth to get between his middle finger and his ring finger, and then he just ... swiped me down my face, and this cut my face. It was actually the first hit of the fight. So we managed to escape with our lives, barely, that night," he said. "Things changed immediately after that."

From there, Williams said the scar that formed on his face led to him being considered for more "thug roles," beginning with his breakout role in the 1996 movie Bullet alongside late rapper Tupac Shakur.

"Tupac Shakur was filming a movie in New York called Bullet, opposite Mickey Rourke," he recalled on on NPR. "And the production office that they were working out of in New York happened to have a Polaroid picture of me, from me going to audition from some various music videos. So he happened to see a Polaroid picture of me and was like, 'Yo, this dude looks thugged out enough that he could play my little brother.' I think he saw my pain and my struggle, my heart. I was just like — I was starstruck, you know. I was like, 'Wow, that's Tupac Shakur.'"

Michael Kenneth Williams
Michael K. Williams in The Wire. HBO

RELATED GALLERY: Michael K. Williams Career in Photos

Years prior, in a 2011 interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Williams explained why he "opted out" of retaliating after the fight that night.

"I knew that I did not want blood on my hands," he said. "And I honestly believe that because I let it go, I didn't harbor any ill feelings, I didn't react in a negative way in revenge, I believe that something happened inside, spiritually. It's why people look at this and see a thing of beauty. Had I taken the other route, I think it would have made me ugly — from the inside."

"I'm very, very fortunate," he later added.

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Williams was found dead Monday afternoon at around 2 p.m. in his Brooklyn penthouse apartment, an NYPD source told PEOPLE. His nephew discovered his body in the living room.

"It is with deep sorrow that the family announces the passing of Emmy nominated actor Michael Kenneth Williams," a rep for Williams told PEOPLE. "They ask for your privacy while grieving this unsurmountable loss."

In addition to The Wire, Williams was known for parts in Law & Order, Boardwalk Empire and Lovecraft Country, the last of which earned him his fifth Emmy Award nomination.

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