Clarence Williams III, ‘The Mod Squad’ and ‘Purple Rain’ star, dead at 81

LOS ANGELES — Actor Clarence Williams III died Friday in Los Angeles of colon cancer, his manager confirmed to The New York Times.

Williams, who personified undercover police officer Lincoln “Linc” Hayes on ABC’s “The Mod Squad,” was 81.

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Williams, who was 29 when he originated the iconic role of Linc alongside co-stars Michael Cole and Peggy Lipton, was one of the first Black actors to land a lead role on a U.S. television series, the Times reported.

Williams also created several memorable big-screen roles throughout his career, including Prince’s abusive father in 1984′s “Purple Rain;” Wesley Snipes’ and Michael Wright’s heroin-addicted father in 1993′s “Sugar Hill;” and jazz legend Jelly Roll Morton in 1998′s “The Legend of 1900,” The Hollywood Reporter reported.

Williams began his career on the stage, earning a Tony nomination in 1965 for “Best Featured Actor in a Play” for his work in the drama “Slow Dance on the Killing Ground,” THR reported.

Born in Manhattan on Aug. 21, 1939, Williams was raised by his paternal grandparents in Harlem. His father, Clarence “Clay” Williams Jr., was a musician, and his mother was “largely absent,” family members told the Times on Sunday.

According to THR, Williams’ grandparents were composer-pianist Clarence Williams, a “frequent collaborator of blues legend Bessie Smith whose songs were used years later in ‘Ain’t Misbehavin,’”, and singer-actress Eva Taylor.

Other film credits for Clarence Williams III include “52 Pick-Up,” “Reindeer Games,” “The General’s Daughter,” “I’m Gonna Git You Sucka,” “Tales From the Hood” and “American Gangster.” Williams also played FBI agent Roger Hardy on the original “Twin Peaks” and Omet’iklan on “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.”

Williams was formerly married to actress Gloria Foster, who played Oracle in the first two installments of “The Matrix” franchise, but the couple divorced in 1984. He is survived by his sister, Sondra Pugh; daughter, Jamey Phillips; niece, Suyin Shaw; grandnephews, Elliot Shaw and Ese Shaw; and grandniece, Azaria Verdin, THR reported.