Clarence Williams III, ‘The Mod Squad’ Actor, Dies at 81

by Jamila Lizet White

June 7, 2021

Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Clarence Williams III, the actor who played detective Linc Hayes on The Mod Squad and Prince‘s father in Purple Rain, died on Friday, June 4 in Los Angeles. He was 81.

Photo by Charley Gallay/Getty Images for TWC

Williams’ management cited the cause of death as colon cancer

Williams made his breakthrough in the 1968 counterculture police crime series, The Mod Squad. The show ran for five seasons and became one of the first programs to feature a leading African-American character.

Promotional studio portrait of actors Michael Cole (L), Clarence Williams III and Peggy Lipton for the television series, ‘The Mod Squad,’ c. 1968. (Photo by ABC/Hulton Archive/Courtesy of Getty Images)

Born in Harlem on Aug. 21, 1939, Williams’ passion for acting developed when he saw a rehearsal for Dark of the Moon in 1957 starring the late Cicely Tyson. The director, Vinette Caroll, gave him a few lines in the play marking the beginning of his acting career. Enlisting in the US Army as a paratrooper in the 101st Airborne Division, Williams didn’t return to the stage until 1965. His performance in Slow Dance on the Killing Ground earned him a Tony nomination and Theatre World award.

Williams’ film credits include Lee Daniel’s The Butler, The General’s Daughter, and Half Baked. 

Williams is survived by his sister Sondra Pugh, daughter Jamey Phillips, niece Suyin Shaw, grandnephews Elliot Shaw and Ese Shaw, and grandniece Azaria Verdin.

We’re sending our prayers to Clarence Williams III and his family.

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