Clarence Williams III, Star Trek and Purple Rain Actor, Dies at 81

Clarence Williams III, star of ABC's The Mod Squad, has passed away. Representatives for the Harlem-born actor confirmed the news with The Hollywood Reporter, confirming the actor died Friday, June 4th, in Los Angeles due to complications with colon cancer. He was 81.

Williams is arguably best known for his role on The Mod Squad but also had starring roles on the silver screen in Purple Rain, Half-Baked, Sugar Hill, and Tales From the Hood, amongst others.

Born in 1939, Williams III first pursued an acting career after serving two years in the United States Army. His first professional credit came on the Broadway play The Long Dream in 1960, and he remained on stage for the better part of the next decade. His breakout role came on the aforementioned The Mod Squad, a counterculture "hippie" cop series where he played a character named Linc Hayes.

Williams ended up appearing in 123 episodes of The Mod Squad between 1968 and 1973. Shortly his run on the ABC show came to a completion, the actor got his first film credit on Purple Rain alongside Prince, Apollonia Kotero, and Morris Day. Genre-adjacent projects Williams was involved in include Star Trek DS9 (Omet'iklan) and Twin Peaks (FBI Agent Roger Hardy).

He retired from acting in 2016 after appearing in Snowbird, a short directed by Sean Baker.

Williams said in 1997 that ABC initially intended The Mod Squad to last six or seven years, but he felt it was right to drop out after five.

"I dropped out purposefully," he told the Chicago Tribune at the time. "I decided that (the show) was over, we played it out for five years, and 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."

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

Cover photo by CBS via Getty Images