10 Tyler James Williams Facts And How A Near-Death Experience Changed Him Forever

Tyler James Williams made a name for himself as a child actor and as the star of "Everybody Hates Chris." The role was pivotal for Williams, as he became one of the youngest winners of an NAACP Image Award at the age of 14 due to his performance. He was able to avoid the pitfalls many child actors experience and went on to appear in films such as "Dear White People" and series like "The Walking Dead," "Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders," and "A Black Lady Sketch Show," among many others.

But it is his role on the smash hit sitcom "Abbott Elementary" that has really caused his star to rise again. Williams won a Golden Globe for his performance as first grade teacher Gregory Eddie on the show, and was nominated for an Emmy as well. And to bring things full circle, he won an NAACP Image Award for the role in 2023.

The actor, much like his character on "Abbott," is serious, thoughtful, and focused. He's also overcome some difficult health obstacles, which he barely survived. But now he is thriving, and fans are here for it. Sure, everybody hates Chris, but everybody loves Tyler James Williams!

The actor made his debut on Sesame Street

The way Tyler James Williams started his career is something most kids can only dream of — appearing on "Sesame Street." Williams was absolutely precious in a segment teaching Ernie and Rubber Duckie how to draw a picture using a computer. In another adorable and educational segment, Williams and his little brother Tyrel are shown celebrating Kwanzaa.

But Williams was really not there to play; he was all business. "I was like, here's my mark, hello Elmo, good morning, I hope you're feeling all right ... I was like focused, I was ready to get started," he recalled on "Live with Kelly and Ryan." He also explained why "Sesame Street" was a great experience and an awesome way to break into the business as a kid. "It's kinda the best way to start when you're a child actor ... you meet all the Muppets but they stay in character," he said.

He almost missed out on Everybody Hates Chris

Before playing Gregory Eddie on "Abbott Elementary," Tyler James Williams was best known for his starring role on the long running hit series "Everybody Hates Chris." The show, created by Chris Rock and loosely based on the comedian's own childhood, starred Williams as the young, fictionalized version of Rock. Williams had six auditions before he landed the role, but he almost wasn't cast at all. And the reason was pretty flattering — Rock thought Williams was too good-looking to play him! "It was a very awkward point in his life, so I understand. [He] hadn't quite grown into his teeth," Williams told Michael Yo in an interview about how Rock looked as a kid.

Adding to the audition drama was the fact that Williams received the news he'd gotten the part when he was literally about to fly back home. "I was on the plane, and before my mother can turn her phone off, my manager calls. 'He got it, he got it. Get off the plane!'" Williams told Yahoo!. "So they were like, 'No! You're not getting off the plane.' So I still had to fly back home just to turn around and come back."

But that audition process taught Williams a lot about himself and the business. "That was the first time I, like, really understood what it took to, like, go get it. Like, if you want this, you have to be able to deliver take after take. You know, I think to this day, it's still how I work," he shared in his interview with Yahoo!.

The health scare that nearly cost Tyler James Williams his life

In 2017, Tyler James Williams experienced a terrifying health issue that led to a near-death experience. The actor had been working and working out a lot, despite having serious stomach pain. "I was really pushing my body to the limit," he told Men's Health.

By the time doctors figured out what was wrong, it was almost too late. Williams was diagnosed with Crohn's disease, and a flare-up caused damage to his bowels and intestines. Surgery was required to remove six inches of lower intestine, but Williams was unable to heal properly due to the level of inflammation present. He nearly died once his intestines perforated, and his body went septic. "The last thought I had was 'Holy s**t, this could be it. If this is it, I'm not happy. I worked a lot. I did a lot of things. I didn't enjoy any of this. This can't be it,'" he said in his interview with Men's Health.

Although recovery was rough, he slowly worked his way back to health. He changed his diet, eliminating alcohol, coffee, and red meat. But what about that epiphany he had in the hospital? Williams decided to take on acting roles that felt more important to him, and playing Gregory Eddie on "Abbott Elementary" was the perfect fit. "[Gregory] wants to be in this position of power 'cause he feels like that's what he needs to be successful but then finds out that that's not his life," Williams explained, adding, "That sounds like the very journey I had to come to." We are so grateful he made it!

Acting runs in the family

Tyler James Williams is the oldest of three, and both of his brothers are actors as well. Tylen Jacob, the youngest of the Williams brothers, has appeared in "Everybody Hates Chris," "Parks and Recreation," and other series. Tyler and Tylen have a co-star in common as well: the great Sheryl Lee Ralph. "My baby brother, also a child actor, did a show with her called 'Instant Mom' for four years ... And she was just so great with him," Tyler shared on "The Kelly Clarkson Show."

Tyrel Jackson Williams, the middle brother, got his start on "Sesame Street" with Tyler and appeared in "Everybody Hates Chris" as well. He has done voice work on shows such as "The Backyardigans" and "Batman: The Brave and the Bold," and appeared on "Community," the Disney series "Lab Rats," and Showtime's cult comedy hit "Party Down," among other series. It's clear that talent is in the Williams family genes!

The Walking Dead scene that affected him deeply

In 2014, Tyler James Williams appeared on the wildly popular post-apocalyptic drama series "The Walking Dead." Williams played Noah on Season 5 of the show and quickly became a fan favorite. But like many characters on the zombie-centric series, Noah wasn't going to make it out alive. And the death of Williams' character was intense — he was torn apart and eaten by zombies, after all.

It turned out Noah's death scene had a deep effect on Williams. "It was unique and it was beautiful. And it was one of the most edifying moments in my career. And it bonded me with everybody in that room at the time," he said in an interview with Collider. Apparently, the gravity of the scene really got to Williams, and he had a very real, very emotional reaction. "They called cut. And then I just kind of collapsed and sobbed for two minutes on set," he said of his final moments as Noah.

How Tyler James Williams related to his character in Dear White People

Tyler James Williams starred in the 2014 film "Dear White People" as outsider Lionel Higgins. Lionel, who is Black and gay, does not want to be defined by those characteristics. Williams explained in an interview with Bossip, "He doesn't want to be just Black or just gay. He doesn't want to be anything. He just wants to be Lionel, but unfortunately, life doesn't always give you that convenience." And Williams could relate.

Although not gay, Williams echoed another actor's ideas about race. When asked by CBS News what he thought about Raven-Symone's comment that she didn't want to be labeled as African American, Williams responded, "I think that it's ignorant to say that I am only one thing to do with my genetic makeup. I don't' see how that defines a human being one way, or another. I don't negate the fact that I'm Black. I don't negate that fact that I relate to certain Black experiences. But that's not who I am." He went on to elaborate, "When people ask who I am, I answer I am Black, and I am my father's son. The identifying yourself by the color of your skin is so minimal."

Why his Golden Globe win was extra special

In 2023, Tyler James Williams won the Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor for his performance as Gregory Eddie on "Abbott Elementary." This was the actor's first Golden Globe award, but it was special for another reason, too. On the Globes red carpet, Williams got to meet his idol, Eddie Murphy. The actor told Variety that Murphy had been an influence for him during his time on "Everybody Hates Chris," saying, "I was a huge fan of Eddie Murphy's 'Raw' and 'Delirious' at that age. A lot of the stuff I did for 'Chris' was stolen from Eddie."

So, when Williams got his picture taken with Murphy on the night of the Globes, he was star-struck. The actor told Jimmy Fallon on "The Tonight Show," "The night could have ended for me right there." Well, it's a good thing he stuck around, because he won his award, and on top of that, he got a standing ovation from Eddie Murphy! Only Williams didn't even see him, because the lights onstage were so bright. "It wasn't 'til I got back to my seat that there was a bunch of text messages of people saying, 'Eddie stood for you' ... and then they sent me the photo and I'm still trying to process this." We love seeing icons supporting the next generation of icons!

Tyler James Williams is also a rapper

In addition to having had a solid career as a child actor and navigating the business through to adulthood, Tyler James Williams is also a rapper. It all started during a 2014 appearance on "Sway in the Morning," when Williams dropped a freestyle over Drake's "6 God." Fans were impressed, to say the least. A year later, Williams released a mixtape called "Me, My Brother & A Mic," which featured the actor rapping over beats produced by his brother Tyrel Jackson Williams.

In 2022, Williams flexed his lyrical prowess on "Sway in the Morning" again, in front of co-hosts Sway and Heather B. Williams rapped over Hitkidd and Glorilla's "FNF" and had clearly matured since his first appearance on the show. The actor had a smooth flow and some of his lyrics were — let's say — adult-themed. The hosts went wild, as did fans. Now that Williams is a bona fide star thanks to "Abbott Elementary," we'd love to see his rap career will take off as well!

His newly minted heartthrob status

Fans who grew up watching Tyler James Williams on "Everybody Hates Chris," might be surprised to find that he's all grown up, and quite frankly, he's hot. But maybe that's due in part to the character he plays on "Abbott Elementary." The show's creator, writer, and star Quinta Brunson told The Guardian, "What's funny is when Tyler and I started working together, we both knew he was not regarded as this 'hot man in Hollywood'. I told him: 'Dude, you're gonna turn into a heartthrob, the way Gregory is getting written.'"

And it has worked out that way. Williams himself admits he can tell when a fan recognizes him from "Abbott" by the way they look at him. He demonstrated to Jimmy Fallon a sort of flirtatious look he's been getting lately. "It's, 'oh, you just seen me on 'Abbott.' You think I'm sexy, I appreciate it," he said. There's a reason Ava is always hitting on Mr. Eddie!

What it's like working with child actors on Abbott Elementary

For his role as first grade teacher Mr. Eddie on "Abbott Elementary," Tyler James Williams is always interacting with the children who play his students on set. As a former child actor himself, Williams relates to the kids in a special way. "I have a very unique perspective. A lot of people will talk to them like they're kids, but I remember being that kid," he told Teen Vogue. "[I feel like], 'No, explain it to them like they're an adult and they'll get it and they'll understand it and they'll respect you for it.'" He went on to express how gratifying it is watching the kids learn the ropes. "Every now and then, [one of our child actors] will ask a question differently and you'll see something in their eye where they're learning and they're realizing that this is something that they enjoy doing and may want to do,"

So, does Williams have any advice for child actors? Not specifically, but he does want to be a positive influence. "Hopefully, 30 years from now there's somebody from 'Abbott' standing here, and they say they felt comfortable performing on a set for the first time," Williams told Buzzfeed News. We really can't think of a better role model for these lucky kids!