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RIP Robert Chew, a/k/a The Wire's Prop Joe. Here's our interview with him:


Word comes today via Instagram (h/t AV Club) that Robert Chew -- better known to millions of rabid The Wire fans as Proposition Joe, an unflinchingly pragmatic drug dealer with a nephew named Cheese --has died at the age of 52.

Wire creator David Simon tells his old paper, the Baltimore Sun

"The Wire cast was an embarrassment of riches and it was easy, I think, for outsiders to overlook some of those who were so essential as supporting players.  Robert's depiction of Proposition Joe was so fixed and complete -- from the very earliest scenes -- that the writers took for granted that anything we sent him would be finely executed.”

Pointing to a scene that indicates the range of talents Chew brought to the production, Simon said, "Late in the run, almost as a tip of the hat to the work that Robert had done for us, I wrote up a scene in which Proposition Joe -- in order to determine whether someone was a police officer trying to infiltrate his drug crew -- gets on a pay phone and in rapid succession imitates four different characters in four different voices.  If you remember that scene and Robert's performance, you know everything you'd need to know about how good an actor this man was.”

"And apart from that, he was a fine and generous man," Simon concluded.

 Indeed. Years after the series ended, The Phoenix had a chance to speak with Chew when we sponsored a panel on The Wire as a prelude to the Boston Book Festival. (Yes, we're aware The Wire was a television show. Nobody cared. There is never a bad excuse to convene a panel on The Wire.) If you want to get a sense of what he was like -- he was a teacher who took many of the young actors, including the troubled ones, under his wing -- read Ryan Stewart's long Q&A with him

And if you download our podcast of that panel, you'll get to hear Chew do an impression of what Prop Joe would've thought about one of the series' biggest fans, Barack Obama. 

READ: The Phoenix interviews Robert Chew

LISTEN: Robert Chew and other cast members, "The Art of the Wire" Panel at Boston Book Festival

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