Clarence Williams III: Tributes paid to late star of Purple Rain and The Mod Squad

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Clarence Williams III, the US actor who played Prince’s father in Purple Rain and also starred in 1960s show The Mod Squad, has died at the age of 81.

Prince’s estate paid tribute to him for his “gripping performance” as Prince’s abusive dad in the singer’s 1984 film.

The actor’s other roles included ageing manservant Maynard in Lee Daniels’ 2013 film The Butler.

Writing on Twitter, the director said he was an “extraordinary” actor who had been “ahead of his time”.

Delinquent turned cop

Born in New York in 1939, Williams was named, like his father, after his musician grandfather, a celebrated jazz pianist.

After serving in the US Air Force he started out on stage, earning a Tony nomination in 1965 for Slow Dance on the Killing Ground.

His big break came in 1968 when he was cast in The Mod Squad as Lincoln “Linc” Hayes, one of three former juvenile delinquents recruited as an undercover cop.

He starred alongside Michael Cole and the late Peggy Lipton in the ABC detective show, appearing in more than 120 episodes over the next five years.

Michael Cole, Clarence Williams III and Peggy Lipton as they appeared in The Mod Squad
image captionMichael Cole, Clarence Williams III and Peggy Lipton as they appeared in The Mod Squad

ABC wanted him to stay on the show longer, but by 1973 he had had enough. “I’d done all I could with the part,” he told the Chicago Tribune in 1997.

“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.”

Yet he was persuaded to reprise his character – played by Omar Epps in the little-liked 1999 film reboot – in a 1979 TV movie that reunited the show’s original cast.

The actor went on to act in Twin Peaks, in which Lipton also appeared, as well as such films as The General’s Daughter, Reindeer Games and Johnny Depp’s The Brave.

Known for his signature gap-toothed smile and simmering intensity, he was nominated four times for the NAACP’s Image Awards.

“It’s not a 100-yard dash, it’s a long-distance run,” he said of his career in 1997. “You need patience, because you’re going for the distance.”

According to his representatives, the actor died of bowel cancer in Los Angeles on 4 June.

He was married once, to actress Gloria Foster, from 1967 to 1984. Foster went on to play The Oracle in the first two Matrix films before dying in 2001.

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