Louis Gossett Jr. Is Dead at 87

He was the first Black man to win a supporting actor Oscar
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Mar 29, 2024 8:28 AM CDT
Louis Gossett Jr. Is Dead at 87
Louis Gossett Jr., poses with the Oscar for best supporting actor for his role in "An Officer and a Gentleman" on April 11, 1983.   (AP Photo, File)

Louis Gossett Jr., the first Black man to win a supporting actor Oscar and an Emmy winner for his role in the seminal TV miniseries Roots, has died at age 87. Gossett's nephew told the AP that the actor died Thursday night in Santa Monica, California. No cause of death was revealed. Gossett said he always thought of his early career as a reverse Cinderella story, with success finding him from an early age and propelling him forward, toward his Academy Award for An Officer and a Gentleman. He earned his first acting credit in his Brooklyn high school's production of "You Can't Take It with You" while he was sidelined from the basketball team with an injury. "I was hooked—and so was my audience," he wrote in his 2010 memoir An Actor and a Gentleman.

His English teacher urged him to go into Manhattan to try out for Take a Giant Step. He got the part and made his Broadway debut in 1953 at age 16. "I knew too little to be nervous," Gossett wrote. He Gossett attended New York University on a basketball and drama scholarship, and he was soon acting and singing on TV shows hosted by David Susskind, Ed Sullivan, Red Buttons, Merv Griffin, Jack Paar, and Steve Allen. In 1959, Gossett received critical acclaim for his role in the Broadway production of A Raisin in the Sun along with Sidney Poitier, Ruby Dee, and Diana Sands.

He went on to become a star on Broadway, replacing Billy Daniels in Golden Boy with Sammy Davis Jr. in 1964. Gossett went to Hollywood for the first time in 1961 to make the film version of A Raisin in the Sun. He had bitter memories of that trip, staying in a cockroach-infested motel that was one of the few places to allow Black people. (Years later, he would found the Eracism Foundation to help create a world where racism doesn't exist.) In 1968, he returned to Hollywood for a major role in Companions in Nightmare, NBC's first made-for-TV movie. Gossett broke through on the small screen as Fiddler in the groundbreaking 1977 miniseries Roots, which depicted the atrocities of slavery on TV.

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Gossett became the third Black Oscar nominee in the supporting actor category in 1983, which he won for his performance as the intimidating Marine drill instructor in An Officer and a Gentleman opposite Richard Gere and Debra Winger. He also won a Golden Globe for the same role. "More than anything, it was a huge affirmation of my position as a Black actor," he wrote in his memoir. He is survived by sons Satie, a producer-director from his second marriage; and Sharron, a chef whom he adopted after seeing the 7-year-old in a TV segment on children in desperate situations. Gossett's first marriage to Hattie Glascoe was annulled. His second, to Christina Mangosing, ended in divorce in 1975 as did his third to actor Cyndi James-Reese in 1992.

(More obituary stories.)

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