According to the coroner, Chew died of cardiovascular disease, with ‘morbid obesity’ as a contributing factor, TMZ reported.
Scroll down to watch video
Chew had very little acting experience when he was approached by the creator of The Wire, reporter and writer David Simon, to play the wisecracking drug lord ‘Proposition Joe’ Stewart. He stayed on for the entire five-season run of the popular series.
Since news of Chew’s sudden passing first broke online, tributes began pouring in from the actor’s friends and colleagues.
On Friday, actor Michael Kenneth Williams, who memorably portrayed charming stickup boy Omar Little on The Wire, posted a photo on Instagram with the caption: ‘R.I.P. to the talented Mr Robert Chew ~prpojoe.’
Other cast members from the series also honored Chew with online tributes, among them actor Wendell Pierce, who wrote: ‘To the beloved Robert Chew, a man who was real Bawlmore, and created the iconic character of “Prop Joe”, may you RIP. A teacher & friend.’
Pierce portrayed police detective Bunk Moreland on The Wire. Most recently, he starred as a New Orleans jazz musician in David Simon’s Treme on HBO.
Jamie Hector, who played a rival gangster, Marlo, in the crime drama, also tweeted about Chew’s passing: ‘I didn’t want to believe this #RIP Robert F Chew, Prop Joe will always be remembered Robert Chew will always be loved and missed!’
On Friday, Mr Simon sent a letter to the Sun praising Chew’s gritty and true-to-life depiction of the Baltimore gangster.
‘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,’ wrote Simon. ‘ 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.’
Mr Chew’s unforgettable drug kingpin character was partially based on a local crime boss, Joe Stewart, who was gunned down in 1984.
Unlike his supremely confident, larger-than-life alter-ego always at the ready with a sharp retort or a witty quip, Mr Chew was a quiet and low-key man, according to those who knew him.
A born-and-bred Baltimore resident, Chew began his acting career in 1997 with a bit part on another David Simon project, NBC’s Homicide.
He also appeared in another HBO mini-series created by Simon called The Corner, which aired in 2000.
Chew graduated from Patterson High School and attended Morgan State University where he sang in the school’s renowned choir.
He was working full time in Baltimore area theater since the early 1980s and had spent the past three decades coaching and mentoring young actors in Baltimore. Nearly two dozen of them would eventually land small parts on The Wire.
After the series wrapped up production in 2007, Chew continued to teach acting in the Arena Players Youth Theatre.
‘Robert was not only an exceptional actor, he was an essential part of the film and theater community in Baltimore,’ Simon wrote Friday. ‘He could have gone to New York or Los Angeles and commanded a lot more work, but he loved the city as his home and chose to remain here working.
‘He understood so much about his craft that it was no surprise at all that we would go to him to coach our young actors in season four. He was the conduit through which they internalized their remarkable performances.’
The funeral for Chew will be held next Thursday at Calvin-Scruggs Funeral Home in Baltimore. He is survived by his mother and three sisters.