Sad news for appreciators of Melvin Williams and The Wire alike, as the actor, inspiration, and former real-life Baltimore drug kingpin behind one of HBO’s most enduring dramas has passed away. The ex-criminal and David Simon collaborator was well-remembered as a source in the creator’s journalistic exploits, and eventual inspiration for The Wire, even taking a minor role.

The Baltimore Sun first reported Williams’ death of cancer, while Simon himself also tweeted out a tribute. A former Sun reporter, Simon and then-homicide detective Ed Burns had previously investigated Williams’ decades-long drug organization, which itself partially served as inspiration for The Wire and its initial antagonist Avon Barksdale.

Williams served multiple years in federal prison, eventually reforming and coming to work with local pastors in steering youths away from drugs and gang culture. As of The Wire Season 3, the former “Little Melvin” accepted a recurring role as Deacon Melvin, counsel to both Bunny Colvin (Robert Wisdom) and Cutty Wise (The Walking Dead alum Chad Coleman).

Best thoughts to the family, and all those affected by Melvin Williams’ work. He will be missed.

Check Out 100 TV Facts You May Not Know!

More From ScreenCrush