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Fans of The Wire should remember Melvin Williams, who played the serene, soft-spoken Deacon on the popular HBO program. Williams died Thursday in his home state of Maryland at the age of 73.

Williams, a former drug kingpin in Baltimore known as “Little Melvin,” turned his life around and became and advocate in combating the violence in his beloved hometown. The Wire creator David Simon, a former Baltimore Sun reporter, covered some of Williams’ former exploits along with his shift from working the drug trade into helping with the city’s troubled youth.

More from the Baltimore Sun:

Known as “Little Melvin” — or Slim or Black, for his preference for dark clothing — he once ruled the illegal drug trade along Pennsylvania Avenue. He served many years in federal prison for drug and gun convictions, and was one of the first criminals profiled on the BET program “American Gangster.”

In later years, he said he had undergone a personal redemption. He spoke out against drug use and counseled young men to steer clear of the gang culture.

“He became the symbol of crime problems in the city, whether he wanted to or not,” former Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke said. “In his later years, he tried to improve himself and help the community.”

Mr. Williams explained his epiphany to U.S. District Judge Marvin J. Garbis during a court appearance in 2003.

“Sometime in my fifties I became aware that there was a God in charge, and not a Melvin,” he said. At that point, he had served nearly four years on a handgun conviction.

According to court records, Williams lorded over a drug operation that made over $1 million per day and ravaged the city. Williams claimed he’s made as much as $1 billion in the narcotics game at his height, but never glorified his criminal past.

Williams has been alleged to serve as an inspiration for The Wire kingpin, Avon Barksdale. He is survived by his wife, Mary Williams, and two daughters.

Photo: screen cap/YouTube

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