R.I.P. Clarence Williams III, the hip undercover detective Linc on The Mod Squad

The former paratrooper later had memorable roles in Purple Rain and Twin Peaks. He was 81.

The Everett Collection

Few TV shows epitomized the late 1960s like The Mod Squad. At a time when Westerns, rural sitcoms, and fantasy series reigned supreme, The Mod Squad pushed the boundaries to reflect the attitudes and trends of the times. It's the show that did the near-impossible — successfully combine aspects of counterculture and law enforcement to create a critically acclaimed drama. The action centered around three hip undercover cops, a flower child (Peggy Lipton), a well-to-do rebel (Michael Cole), and a Watts native who was arrested in his neighborhood's infamous riots (Clarence Williams III). 

Lincoln "Linc" Hayes was arguably the most memorable member of the trio. A reference to the character decades later in Pulp Fiction reinforced Linc as a counter-culture icon. Casting Williams in the role was a large part of crafting his cool.

Williams' father was a musician, as was his grandfather and grandmother. Before he joined The Mod Squad as Linc, Williams had a successful career on Broadway. That background undoubtedly informed his role, years later, as Prince's dad in Purple Rain (1984).

In 1968, when The Mod Squad premiered, there was simply nobody like him as a star on a television series. "When [a black man] comes home hungry and tired and sees a guy like himself reflected on TV — with dark skin, a flat nose and kinky hair — it makes him feel good," William told a British television reporter in 1968, in an article titled, "The Explosive New Factor — The Hero is Black!" Here's proof of the show's impact: At the end of its first season, The Mod Squad was voted the No. 2 favorite show on television by readers of The Courier in Waterloo, Iowa. The poll results featured pictures of Dean Martin and Williams at the top of the page.

At the time, Williams was married to actress Gloria Foster, who guest-starred on The Mod Squad. Today, people likely remember her best as "The Oracle" in the first two Matrix films. The Mod Squad would feature fantastic guests like Richard Pryor, Andy Griffith and Harrison Ford (who popped up in the premiere).

After The Mod Squad ended in 1973, Williams was a rare sight on television throughout the Seventies, until the TV movie The Return of Mod Squad in 1979. His career picked up over the next decade, as he guest-starred on cop shows (Hill Street BluesT.J. Hooker, Miami Vice) and returned to fictional law enforcement as FBI Agent Roger Hardy on Twin Peaks in 1990. The David Lynch mystery series was a Mod Squad reunion of sorts, as Peggy Lipton portrayed Norma Jennings on the cult favorite.

Speaking of late-'60s television team-ups, Eve Plumb of The Brady Bunch made her big-screen debut in I'm Gonna Git You Sucka, Keenen Ivory Wayans' (and his Wayans brothers) spoof of the the Seventies blaxploitation genre. The comedy showcased loads of iconic Black talent from the past, including Williams. Plumb played his wife.

Williams continued to work through his 70s, turning up in the movie Lee Daniels' The Butler and on the Fox series Empire.

On June 4, Williams passed away from colon cancer, according to The Hollywood Reporter. He was 81. Michael Cole is the surviving member of The Mod Squad, as Lipton died in 2019.

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FloridaTopCat 12 months ago
Clarence Williams worked 11 TV Movies between 2003 and 2007 with Kellie Martin, the "Mystery Woman" Series
Zivalani 21 months ago
I ran into Clarence years ago at Fatburger - the original on La Cienega in the middle of the night after hours and some guy rolled up and asked, Hey man, didn’t you play Linc and I guess one too many had asked that day cuz he lost his temper and punched the guy out.

PulsarStargrave 29 months ago
LINC was one of my favorite characters on TV and I pitied his "Francis L" character in PURPLE RAIN (which will turn 40 in 3 years!) however,
I've always wondered if Linc inspired people at Marvel Comics to create LUKE CAGE, HERO FOR HIRE? "LUKE CAGE" sounded awfully similar to "LINC HAYES" but I chalked it up to coincidence! UNTIL I saw a MeTV commercial for Mod Squad in which Linc was wearing a YELLOW wind breaker and dark slacks...Luke Cage's color scheme! AH, HA!
Reginia 34 months ago
Yes my favorite show as a kid. The first question at school the next day was “Did you see Mod Squad last night.”
denny 35 months ago
Just watched him in 52 Pickup with Roy Scheider and Ann Margret recently. I really liked the Mystery Woman series on Hallmark that he co-starred.

RIP Clarence
Mike 36 months ago
Again, I call your attention to MeTV+, which just started up on some of the digital station platforms; usually they're a couple of channels over from the mothership.
On MeTV+, Mod Squad runs weekdays afternoons; here in Chicago, that's 2:00 pm Central time (that's Channel 26.5 here)
The rest of you are gonna have to rescan; happy hunting!
LoveMETV22 Mike 36 months ago
Mike, Google MeTV + or MeTV Plus. It is only available in the Chicago area and one station in Phoenix, Arizona. It is experimental and not available anywhere else (yet). So scanning won't do anything unless you live in those areas. Happy reading.
JERRY6 36 months ago
Linc was my favorite on the Mod Squad , he will be missed a real talented actor , he played the part perfectly . Hope Me tv brings the show back .
Randall 36 months ago
Huge MOD SQUAD fan also really enjoyed him as Philbee (sorry about spelling) whit Kellie Martin in the mystery woman series on hallmark. RIP Link you will be missed!
TheDavBow3 36 months ago
R.I.P. Clarence Williams III. I barely remember the show. My Dad did watch it. I'll need to catch some reruns
LoveMETV22 36 months ago
Thank You MeTV for the link to the article in "The Courier". Interesting to read what was considered popular back at that time.
36 months ago
He was married to the brown haired woman on Cagney and Lacey.
Michael SheriHeffner 36 months ago
Actually, Tyne Daly was married to Georg Sanford Brown, who was on The Rookies , which had a certain similarity to The Mod Squad. Both had three young cops working closely with an older cop.

Tyne Daily did an episode of The Mod Squad.
Michael 36 months ago
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Michael 36 months ago
Oh! My bad. I remember now. My parents watched The Rookies and The Mod Squad. I really wasn't into adult dramas as a kid and I never watched The mod Squad much later on. I did like it though and I liked the Linc character. I think I saw a movie on television a long time ago that starred Tyne and Georg. Thank you for helping me remember.
Michael SheriHeffner 36 months ago
Fifty years later, some of it is hazy, not just distance, but I was 11 in 1971. Some of these shows seem familiar, but when I watch them, none of the episodes are familiar. Did I really only know The Rat Patrol from commercials?

Even ironside sort of melts into it, since he had a young and hip staff. And Room 222. I'm not sure whether the episode where students start humming to annoy the teacher was that or in the Mod Squad.
Robin SheriHeffner 36 months ago
The gossip was that he was dating Tyne Daley after she and George Stanford Brown divorced. They went to a lot of awards things together. I don't think they actually ever married though. This is just my thought though.
QazWiz Michael 36 months ago
rat patrol and 12 o'clock high were my brothers favorites meanwhile Scifi time tunnel and world that time forgot were mine
Christopher 36 months ago
“Keep the faith, baby. And don’t spread it thin.”

- Linc Hayes
Christopher 36 months ago
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OldSkool56 36 months ago
Coincidence RIP Williams & Prince. Reading as I was already listening to the soundtrack of Purple Rain movie in Which the article states Clarence appears.. as fans observe Princes'birthday on today June 7-58.
77Flemmings 36 months ago
I remember the Mod Squad very well. I often watched it. RIH Clarence Williams III.
TVFF 36 months ago
Sorry to hear about Clarence's death. I always liked the way he delivered his lines on The Mod Squad with an understated directness that gave his character a sense of being real. He wasn't trying to ham it up like some actors do. Hopefully MeTV will show The Mod Squad again. It was a very unique show.
CarolKelley TVFF 36 months ago
I would love it if ME TV showed The Mod Squad! Show it at 5PM or when Dragnet airs even if Dragnet's hour starts at 5:30. I find Dragnet to be pretty preachy.
TVFF CarolKelley 36 months ago
Same here. I'm not that crazy about Dragnet.
CarolKelley 36 months ago
That's the beauty of Dragnet! Jack Webb WAS pretty preachy, railing against hippies, LSD, smart-alecky teenagers. He was a hoot!
Wiseguy CarolKelley 36 months ago
Yeah, I'm sure The Mod Squad was never preachy! LOL
MrsPhilHarris 36 months ago
To be honest I don’t remember any episodes. I haven’t seen the show for many, many years.
Pacificsun MrsPhilHarris 36 months ago
I always wanted that Show to be something that it wasn't. I can't explain it really. Except (IMO) the characters were hard to warm up to. But looking back, it was such a typical representation of the 70's, the styles, the attitude. They were definitely great actors, I'll give them that. But I think the characters should've exhibited more chemistry.
MrsPhilHarris Pacificsun 36 months ago
My neighbour, a beautiful blonde teenager, wanted to marry Michael Cole.
denny Pacificsun 35 months ago
Completely agree, something just didn't click.
texasluva 36 months ago
I was reading the Notable Deaths Sunday and saw that Clarence Williams III had passed on. I remember him in "The Mod Squad" which I have played the opening a few times here on MeTV. I always liked watching that series. RIP Clarence.
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