Oscar-winning actor Louis Gossett Jr. dead at 87

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Louis Gossett Jr. — Oscar winner and groundbreaking Roots star — has died at the age of 87.

While no cause of death has yet to be revealed, his nephew told The Associated Press that the Officer and a Gentleman actor died Thursday night in Santa Monica, California.

“It is with our heartfelt regret to confirm our beloved father passed away this morning. We would like to thank everyone for their condolences at this time. Please respect the family’s privacy during this difficult time,” his family said in a statement.

Gossett was the first African-American to score a supporting actor Academy Award in 1983 for An Officer and was also an Emmy winner for the 1977 miniseries Roots.

The Brooklyn native had a plethora of esteemed acting credits to his name, including being on Broadway for the plays A Raisin in the Sun, Tambourines to Glory and The Zulu and the Zayda.

His eclectic film roles stretched over five decades, which saw parts in 2023’s The Color Purple, The Punisher, The White Dawn, Toy Soldiers, Enemy Mine, The Deep and Skin Game.

Gossett was born in Coney Island in 1936, and first got a taste of acting when he starred in his high school’s production of You Can’t Take It with You.

It was then that his English teacher advised him to try out for the play Take a Giant Step — a show that he earned the starring role at just the age of 17 in 1953.

Gossett had been injured while playing sports at the time, and he had to stay on the sidelines, prompting him to pursue other interests.

He then attended New York University, declining to go on a basketball scholarship and instead concentrated on theatre.

Gossett continued to hone his acting craft by studying with teacher Frank Silvera at the famed Actors Studio, and becoming friends with Hollywood peers James Dean, Marilyn Monroe, Martin Landau, and Steve McQueen.

In 1961, he entered Tinseltown to appear in the film adaptation of A Raisin in the Sun, alongside Sidney Poitier, Ruby Dee, Claudia McNeil, Diana Sands and Roy Glenn.

1977’s Roots broke many barriers at the time when it was released on ABC at the time.

Gossett played Fiddler, a slave on a plantation in the 1700s, and appeared with Ben Vereen, Leslie Uggams, LeVar Burton, and John Amos.

“All the top African-American actors were asked, and I begged to be in there,” he once said about the show based on author Alex Haley’s book Roots: The Saga of an American Family. “I got the best role, I think. It was wonderful.”

An Officer and a Gentleman became one of his most iconic roles, appearing with Richard Gere and Debra Winger in 1982.

He also won a Golden Globe, as well as the Oscar for the part of Gunnery Sergeant Emil Foley.

“The Oscar gave me the ability of being able to choose good parts in movies like Enemy Mine, Sadat and Iron Eagle,” he told author Dave Karger for his 2024 book 50 Oscar Nights about his golden statuette.

“I’m going to donate [the award] to a library so I don’t have to keep an eye on it. I need to be free of it.”

Gossett also suffered from a series of health issues that plagued much of his life.

He battled alcohol and cocaine addictions after he won his Oscar, even suffering from COVID-19 in 2020.

During his rehab stay, he was diagnosed with toxic mold syndrome — an illness that stemmed from living in his Malibu home.

In 2010, he revealed he had prostate cancer, however, it was caught in the early stages.

He even dipped his toes into the music world, co-writing the peace song Handsome Johnny for folk singer Richie Havens’ first album, Mixed Bag, in 1966.

Gossett was a strong anti-racism advocate, founding the organisation Eracism Foundation in 2006.

The charity’s aim was to end all forms of racism by creating programs that encourage cultural diversity, historical enrichment and education.

This feeling towards injustice mostly came from a 1966 incident where he claimed police handcuffed him to a tree for no particular reason.

Just two years later, he was pulled over by the LAPD in Beverly Hills after he was driving a rented convertible that Universal Studios had given him.

The cops forced him to get out and lean against the vehicle, telling him to open up his trunk and refused to let him go before they called the car rental agency to confirm that he was supposed to have the automobile.

“Though I understood that I had no choice but to put up with this abuse, it was a terrible way to be treated, a humiliating way to feel,” Gossett wrote in his 2010 memoir An Actor and a Gentleman.

“I realised this was happening because I was Black and had been showing off with a fancy car — which, in their view, I had no right to be driving.”

“We better take care of ourselves and one another better, otherwise nobody’s gonna win anything,” he told CBS Sunday Morning in July 2020. “We need each other quite desperately — for our mutual salvation.”

Gossett is survived by sons Satie and Sharron. He was previously married to Hattie Glascoe, a union that was annulled in 1968.

He subsequently married Christina Mangosing, and they divorced in 1975. His third marriage was to Cyndi James-Reese and they spit in 1992.

This story originally appeared on Page Six and is republished here with permission.