Clarence Williams III, who starred as the undercover cop Lincoln “Linc” Hayes on The Mod Squad, has died.
Williams died in LA on Friday June 4, 2021 of colon cancer.
He began his career on the stage and earned a Tony nomination in 1965 for best featured actor in a play for his work in the powerful three-person drama Slow Dance on the Killing Ground.
On the big screen, Williams played Prince’s father in Purple Rain (1984) and was Wesley Snipes and Michael Wright’s drug-addled dad in Sugar Hill (1993). In The Legend of 1900 (1998), Williams was jazz legend Jelly Roll Morton.
It was Bill Cosby who saw Slow Dance and recommended Williams to producer Aaron Spelling, who was casting The Mod Squad.
Created by Bud Ruskin, who had led an LAPD undercover narcotics unit, The Mod Squad aired for five seasons starring Williams, Peggy Lipton as Julie Barnes and Michael Cole as Pete Cochran who played young adults who had run-ins with the law (Linc had been arrested during the Watts riots) before becoming undercover cops.
The Mod Squad tapped into the countercultural vibe of the era, incorporating timely issues like racism, anti-war protests and drug addiction into storylines as Linc, Julie and Pete infiltrated high schools, acting classes, prisons, hippie newspapers, gangs, movie sets, etc. to catch the bad guys.
The website Groovy History says,
“They were most definitely the hippest and coolest undercover cops on television at the time.”
Williams told the LA Times in 1995 that Linc,
“was a very different role for an African-American and a wonderful lead character that a lot of youngsters, black and white, and principally African-American youngsters could identify with.”
But five years on the show was enough. He told The Chicago Tribune in 1997,
“They wanted to go six or seven years, and I decided I didn’t want to do that.
I’d done all I could with the part. And so I said let me go back, refresh myself, learn some things, read, travel and just try to put some more arrows in my quiver.”
Williams did return for a Mod Squad reunion telefilm in 1979. (Omar Epps played Linc opposite Claire Danes and Giovanni Ribisi in an mediocre 1999 feature version of the series.)
Williams was also in The Cool World (1963), Deep Cover (1992), Hoodlum (1997), Life (1999), Impostor (2001), Constellation (2005) and Lee Daniels’ The Butler (2013). He made appearances on TV’s Hill Street Blues, Miami Vice, Law & Order, Everybody Hates Chris, Burn Notice, Justified and Empire.
Williams was married to actress Gloria Foster (the Oracle in the first two Matrix movies) from 1967-84.
Clarence Williams III was 81.