Clarence Williams III: 5 Things To Know About Iconic ‘Mod Squad’ Actor Who Is Dead At 81

The legendary TV actor died in Los Angeles after a battle with colon cancer. Learn more about Clarence Williams III.

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Clarence Williams III, the actor who played Linc Hayes on the influential counterculture police series The Mod Squad, as well as Prince’s father in Purple Rain, has sadly passed away at the age of 81. His management confirmed he died on June 4 following a battle with colon cancer. The New York City native, who was the grandson of legendary jazz musician Clarence Williams, made his acting debut on Broadway, before breaking onto the big screen. Here’s 5 more things to know about him.

Clarence has sadly passed away. Image: Shutterstock

1. Fans are mourning the loss of the legendary TV star.

People around the world took to social media, to share tributes to the iconic actor, who made a name for himself in film, TV and on the stage. “Mod Squad broke new ground,” one person tweeted after news of his death broke on June 6. “Clarence Williams III broke new ground. You can draw a direct line from Clarence Williams III to both Denzel [Washington] & Idris [Elba]. It’s his MF moody blood running through The Kid in Purple Rain that’s the furnace of his pain & genius.”

Another user write, “RIP to Clarence Williams III. His career was varied and wonderful but obviously I’ll always remember him for his phenomenal performance in Tales from the Hood, an underrated classic. Thanks for the intensity, sir. Your acting was… THE S***!” A third person chimed in, “RIP Clarence Williams III He had a fine career in theatre, film & tv but he made a real impact with me as Taft in Deep Cover. He had to play an overly earnest character but imbued him with passion & humanity.”

2. Clarence began his career on the stage. 

He started his acting career on the stage and even earned a Tony Away nomination in 1965 for best featured actor in a play for his work in the three-person drama Slow Dance on the Killing Ground. Soon after, he landed his infamous TV role, however he returned to Broadway decades later to star opposite Maggie Smith in the original 1979 production Tom Stoppard’s Night and Day. Among his other memorable Broadway credits, he led Joseph Papp’s “King John” at the Delacorte Theatre.

Clarence Williams. Image: Shutterstock

3. ‘The Mod Squad’ catapulted him to international stardom.

Clarence starred as the brooding undercover cop Lincoln Hayes on the popular ABC drama, which ran from 1968 to 1973. He 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.” He starred alongside Michael Cole, and Peggy Lipton, who sadly passed away in 2019.

4. Bill Cosby helped him get his start on the screen. 

Comedian Bill Cosby had seen some of Clarence’s work, and recommended him to producer Aaron Spelling, who was casting The Mod Squad. As a trial, he gave the young actor a small part on a series he was producing, as the driver of a getaway car. “They went in, they rob the store, you heard a pistol shot and they ran in the car,” Aaron recalled in a 1999 interview for the Archive of American Television. “Then [Williams] drove off and smashed right into a telephone pole. I thought everybody was killed. We all rushed over. I said, ‘Clarence, Clarence, what happened?’ He said, ‘I’ve never driven before.’ I said, ‘Why didn’t you tell me that?’ He said, ‘Because I wanted the job.’ I hired him that night for Mod Squad.’ “

5. Clarence previously served in the military. 

After appearing in an uncredited role in the 1960 Broadway production of The Long Dream, he enlisted in the U.S. Army and served as a paratrooper in the 101st Airborne Division. He spent two years in the military before returning to New York to pursue his acting career.

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