Louis Gossett Jr. Dies: ‘Roots’ and ‘An Officer and a Gentleman’ Star Was 87

LOS ANGELES - OCT 25: Louis Gossett Jr at the Hollywood Walk of Fame Honors at Taglyan Complex on October 25, 2016 in Los Angeles, CA — Photo by Jean_Nelson/Deposit Photos

Louis Gossett Jr., a trailblazing performer who became the first Black man to win a best supporting actor Oscar, has died. He was 87.

Gossett passed away Friday morning in Santa Monica, California, his first cousin Neal L. Gossett told the Associated Press. No cause of death was released.

His cousin said the actor should be remembered for standing up for Civil Rights and for fighting against racism.

“Never mind the awards, never mind the glitz and glamour, the Rolls-Royces and the big houses in Malibu. It’s about the humanity of the people that he stood for,” his cousin said.

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An Officer and a Gentleman. (Credit: Paramount Pictures)
An Officer and a Gentleman. (Credit: Paramount Pictures)

Louis Cameron Gossett was born on May 27, 1936, in the Coney Island section of Brooklyn, New York.

He took an early interest in acting and made his stage debut in a high school production of You Can’t Take It with You.

After high school, he attended New York University on a basketball and drama scholarship. In the 1950s, he began landing roles on Broadway.

Gossett appeared in the stage production of A Raisin in the Sun about a Black family’s experiences in Chicago, and in 1961 he co-starred in the film adaptation with Sidney Poitier, Claudia McNeil, and Ruby Dee.

Gossett’s breakout television role came in the 1977 miniseries Roots about the horrors of slavery in America.

He played Fiddler, an enslaved musician who “fiddled” his way out of the fields, to what he considered an elevated position among the slaves.

Gossett won an Emmy Award for his performance in the miniseries, which also starred Ben Vereen, LeVar Burton, John Amos, and Leslie Uggams.

In a statement on X Friday, Burton described Gossett as “one of the best to ever do it.”

Roots (Credit: ABC)
Roots (Credit: ABC)

Gossett became just the third Black Oscar nominee in the supporting actor category in 1983 for his role in An Officer and a Gentleman. He made history when he took home the award for portraying a Marine drill instructor in the film opposite Richard Gere.

In a 2015 interview, Gossett told the CBC he was stunned when they called his name at the Academy Awards.

“It was like being in a dream. My agent hit me in the chest and said, ‘They said your name, get up there.’ I was not prepared to win the Oscar,” he recalled.

In 1992, he won a Golden Globe Award for his performance in HBO’s The Josephine Baker Story.

Among his other television roles were parts in The Rockford Files, Good Times, The Jeffersons, Lackawanna Blues, Return to Lonesome Dove, Touched by an Angel, Watchmen, Kingdom Business, and numerous other projects.

Most recently, he appeared as Ol’ Mister on the big screen in The Color Purple remake.

While Hollywood brought Gossett fame and fortune, he told the CBC it was also the first place he encountered overt racism.

He said he experienced “face-to-face racism, which happened in the ’60s in Hollywood, California — Beverly Hills. I was handcuffed to a tree, because I was walking around looking at movie stars homes in Beverly Hills.”

Gossett established the Eracism Foundation to educate young people about bias and to combat racism.

The actor was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2010. According to CNN, he went public with the news “to set an example for the large number of African-American men who are victims of this disease because of the comparatively low emphasis in our community on preventive examinations and early treatment.”

Gossett was married three times. His first marriage to Hattie Glascoe was annulled. His marriage to Christina Mangosing ended in divorce in 1975, and he was divorced from Cyndi James-Reese in 1992.

The actor is survived by his sons Satie, who is a producer-director; and Sharron, who is a chef. The AP reported Gossett adopted Sharron after seeing the 7-year-old in a TV segment about children needing loving homes.

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