Michael K. Williams' Friend Ruben Santiago-Hudson Recalls Their Final Encounter: 'Let's Go to Church'
Actor Ruben Santiago-Hudson has fond memories from one of his final moments with Michael K. Williams.
The Lackawanna Blues writer and director, 64, opens up to PEOPLE about his close friendship with the late star and recalls one of the last times he met up with Williams prior to his death on Sept. 6.
"The last time I saw Michael K. Williams, he went to my older son's church … Michael and I were shooting in Atlanta, the last time I saw him," Santiago-Hudson says. "He was shooting his show, and I was shooting my show, and he said, 'I want to go to church while I'm here. Let's go to church.' And I said, 'Let's go to my son's church.' "
"That was the last time I saw him," he remembers. "He had such a great time that he came out of the church and said, 'Rube, Rube, will you video me? I wanna do a testimony about the church.' And his testimony was a rap. He rapped about the church in Atlanta … It was a great, great loss, but it was also a great contribution to our lives that he shared his generosity, his beauty, his art with us all."
As Santiago-Hudson prepares for the Broadway opening of his autobiographical, one-man show Lackawanna Blues on Sept. 28, he also remembers how Williams landed the role of Jimmy Lee — a resident at Rachel "Nanny" Crosby's neighborhood boarding house — in the play's 2005 TV film adaptation.
"You know, Michael and I were very close," he shares with PEOPLE. "Originally, I wrote this role, that role, for someone else … and [film director] George [C. Wolfe] wanted me to see this guy he saw on tape, Michael K. Williams. I said, 'I don't really need to see anybody. I'd like to give it to my friend.' And he told Michael's agent, who told Michael."
Williams then offered to fly himself in to audition for the part. "Please give me an opportunity to just meet you and show you my interpretation of this character," Santiago-Hudson recalls Williams saying to him.
Santiago-Hudson, a Tony Award winner for his performance in August Wilson's Seven Guitars, understood Williams' yearning for the job, given "I'm an actor too," he says.
"He came in, and the rest is history, as they say," Santiago-Hudson adds. "And it was something about him that was kind of needy, that he needed this strong father figure in his life, and he just glued himself on to me, and we spent many dinners [together] — some parties, some at the club, a lot of lectures, a lot of talk."
"He came to Harrisburg as often as he could," said Johnathan Branam, the funeral home manager for Hooper Memorial Home, which handled Williams' services, according to the outlet. "He loved his mama. Harrisburg embraced him as an adopted son."
Hundreds gathered, including family, friends and celebrities, to pay their respects to the legendary actor.
The services took place at St. Stephen's Episcopal Cathedral and were streamed on Facebook. Several stars were in attendance, including Queen Latifah, The Wire co-creator David Simon and Williams' The Wire costars, Felicia Pearson (Snoop), Andre Royo (Bubbles) and Jamie Hector (Marlo).
Williams portrayed Omar Little in the hit HBO series. The role has been lauded over the years for its complex depiction of a gay Black man with a reputation as a ruthless criminal in the streets of Baltimore.
RELATED VIDEO: Michael K. Williams, Actor Known for The Wire and Lovecraft Country, Dead at 54
The Lovecraft Country star was found dead in his Brooklyn penthouse apartment, a source from the NYPD previously told PEOPLE. He was 54.
"It is with deep sorrow that the family announces the passing of Emmy nominated actor Michael Kenneth Williams," a rep for Williams told PEOPLE at the time. "They ask for your privacy while grieving this unsurmountable loss."
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A separate law enforcement source told PEOPLE that Williams died of a suspected overdose. Officials believe he may have used heroin laced with fentanyl.
Williams had been open about his struggles with drug abuse in the past. Raised in the Vanderveer Projects of Brooklyn's East Flatbush neighborhood, he was exposed to crime at an early age and developed a drug addiction in his teens.
He told The New York Times in 2017 that although he'd had treatment for his addiction, he'd relapsed multiple times during his storied career. "Addiction doesn't go away," he said. "It's an everyday struggle for me, but I'm fighting."
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