Black power icon of the 1960s and ’70s, Clarence Williams III, most famous for his roles as Linc Hayes in The Mod Squad, and as Prince’s father in Purple Rain, died on June 4th at the age of 81.
Son of the professional musician, Clarence ‘Clay’ Williams Jr, his career began on stage earning his first broadway role in the 1960s effort The Long Dream, before going on to earn a Tony Award nomination for his performance in William Hanley’s Slow Dance on the Killing Ground. This would lead William’s to his breakout television role in The Mod Squad where he played the seriously cool Lincoln Hayes, a detective among a band of similarly wayward individuals, each under the command of the stony Tige Andrews.
Iconic of a late 1960s style and counterculture, The Mod Squad tackled issues of race, inequality, and a dawning Vietnam war with a venomous bite. Alongside the five year runtime of the show, Williams appeared in a handful of TV specials throughout the 1980s before starring in Albert Magnoli’s Purple Rain in 1984. His first major film role placed the actor alongside the gloriously influential artist Prince, playing the singers fictitious father in a romantic semi-autobiographical retelling of his life.
Though Williams’ career certainly blossomed in the 1960s and ’70s, his versatility helped him to achieve further success in the latter stages of the 20th century, playing comedic roles in blaxploitation parody I’m Gonna Git You Sucka in 1988, before working with Dave Chappelle in 1998’s Half-Baked.
Survived by his sister Sondra Pugh and daughter Jamey Phillips among others, Clarence Williams III will long be remembered as an icon of 1960s style, armed with a progressive attitude and an effortless charm.