According to his obituary in The Baltimore Sun, Chew passed away on Thursday of apparent heart failure.
In addition to acting, Chew also taught and mentored child and young adult actors at Baltimore’s Arena Players, where he found the group of young actors who played the students in the Baltimore City School system who were the main focus of season four of the series (one of the most heartbreaking seasons for any TV show). He would eventually land roles in the series for 22 of his acting students.
“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,” series creator David Simon told the paper. “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.”
As a character, Prop Joe moved through the Baltimore streets quietly, operating under a simple business plan of, “buy for a dollar, sell for two – and later for all that gangster bullshit.” The fact that Chew, a very large man, was tapped to play a character that wanted to remain invisible was a nice contrast and one of those little things that added up to make the The Wire so great.
Chew was so perfect in the role – as were just about every actor cast in the series – that it is hard to picture him playing anyone else. He was one of those characters that started out small and, over time, grew into a vital part of the series (and we still haven’t gotten over Cheese for betraying his uncle to Marlo).
The acting world is a little poorer today without Chew.