Clarence Williams III, the actor who portrayed Linc Hayes on TV’s The Mod Squad as well as played Prince’s father in Purple Rain, has died at the age of 81.
Williams management confirmed the actor’s death to Variety, adding that Williams died following a battle with colon cancer.
The New York City-born Williams, the grandson of jazz great Clarence Williams, made his acting debut on Broadway and other theatrical productions in the mid-Sixties before he was cast in The Mod Squad, the influential counterculture police series that ran for five seasons on ABC.
“Mod Squad broke new ground,” Living Colour’s Vernon Reid tweeted Sunday. “Clarence Williams III broke new ground. You can draw a direct line from Clarence Williams III to both Denzel & Idris. It’s his MF moody blood running through The Kid in Purple Rain that’s the furnace of his pain & genius.”
Williams told the Los Angeles Times in 1995, “It 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. I get so much feedback from that show even now and it is almost 30 years old.”
Over a decade after The Mod Squad ended in 1973, Williams — who left Hollywood to return to the stage — made his big-screen debut as the Kid’s troubled, abusive father in Purple Rain; Prince himself recruited Williams to portray his father in the 1984 autobiographical film.
“There was an acoustic guitar laying on the set and Prince was sitting on floor, just staring off into space and I guess he was going through the same process I was going through—thinking about what we had shot,” Williams told the Los Angeles Times of working on Purple Rain. “He just picked up the guitar and started doodling. I had my eyes closed, and I was leaning back in the chair and I thought about Jimi Hendrix. I mean he was hitting some chords and the soundstage was absolutely quiet. It was just a wonderful, wonderful experience.”
Following his return to Hollywood, the actor appeared on television shows like Twin Peaks, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Judging Amy. Other notable film roles include the drug lord Sampson Simpson in the Dave Chappelle stoner comedy Half Baked, legendary pianist “Jelly Roll” Morton in the Giuseppe Tornatore’s The Legend of 1900, the devil-in-disguise Mr. Simms in Tales From the Hood, as well as roles in I’m Gonna Git You Sucka, Hoodlum, Deep Cover, Sugar Hill and American Gangster.