Michael K. Williams’ heartbroken nephew on Tuesday described the late actor as an “amazing uncle” who supported him during his more than two decades behind bars.
Dominic Dupont was convicted of murder at 19, reportedly for the death of a man during a fight he got into as a teenager while defending his twin brother. He served 20 years of a 25-to-life term before his sentence was commuted by then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo in 2017.
“Michael was instrumental in helping me get through the process of the prison experience,” Dupont, 43, said outside his uncle’s Brooklyn high-rise.
“He would work really hard to be a mentor to me and encourage me to stay focused on the important things.”
The beloved star, who died Monday at 54, drew from his personal ties to the prison system for his 2016 role as Rikers Island inmate Freddy Knight in HBO’s “The Night Of,” for which he received his second of five Emmy nominations.
“It wasn’t something where I needed to do research to understand that world,” Williams told NPR in 2016.
“I still visit my family that’s incarcerated. And I see the good days. I see the bad days. I see the growth,” he said. “I see what they lost by being incarcerated. And I saw the gains. I just dove into that.”
During that interview, Williams said he was “extremely proud” of his nephew, adding, “f there were such a term as a model prisoner, he’d be the poster boy.”
Speaking to Vanity Fair last year, Williams said that portraying Knight had given him a “glimpse” into his nephew’s experience behind bars.
“That was a very frightening and difficult process to experience,” he said, “there was definitely some moments that I got tripped up, what is reality and what is fiction.”
Law enforcement sources said Staci Nixon Dupont, Dominic’s wife, called 911 on Monday afternoon after finding the Emmy-nominee unresponsive in his penthouse. Asked whether he was there when Staci made the tragic discovery, Dominic said “no comment.”
Williams, known for his roles on “The Wire” and “Boardwalk Empire,” died of a suspected drug overdose. Police are probing whether the drugs in question were a batch of heroin laced with fentanyl.
The beloved actor had spoken publicly about his past grappling with drug addiction, and opened up just a few month ago about how he had sought mental health treatment after filming “Lovecraft Country.”
His nephew wouldn’t get drawn into whether it seemed like Williams — who other relatives have said was exited to land an Emmy nomination this year for his work as Montrose Freeman in the HBO drama — had been struggling in the days before his death.
“I leave the opinions of people who have ideas or thoughts about what Michael was struggling with to them,” he said. “That is where I will leave that.”
Dupont, who worked as a youth counselor during his time in prison, credited his uncle with “helping me make a successful transition back into the community,” following his release in 2018.
“The bottom line is Michael was one of the people I identified as having skin in the game and being committed to helping people thrive,” he said.
Both uncle and nephew worked to better the lives of city kids with the nonprofit Making Kids Win, which Williams founded and Dupont works for as director of programs, according to his LinkedIn.
“He was serious about service work and helping people in the community and was the type of individual committed to seeing people succeed,” Dupont said.
The activist actor, who grew up in public housing in East Flatbush, interviewed his nephew in the 2018 Vice documentary “Raised in the System,” which explored the juvenile criminal justice system.
The family, including the actor’s mom Paula Williams and his brother, Paul Carey, are “doing the best we can in the circumstances,” Dupont said.
“We want to grieve and celebrate his life and celebrate his legacy.”
Additional reporting by Joe Marino
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