Louis Gossett Jr., the first Black man to win a supporting actor Oscar, dies at 87

Calista Alma
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March 30, 2024

Louis Gossett Jr., the trailblazing actor renowned as the first Black man to secure a supporting actor Oscar and acclaimed for his portrayal in the groundbreaking TV miniseries “Roots,” has passed away at the age of 87.

Gossett’s cousin, Neal L. Gossett, confirmed his demise to CBS News, stating that the actor breathed his last on Thursday night in Santa Monica, California, as reported by The Associated Press. The cause of death remains undisclosed.

In a statement released by his family on Friday, they expressed their profound sorrow, confirming his passing and requesting privacy during this challenging period.

Gossett’s journey into the limelight began with what he described as a reverse Cinderella story, where success found him early, ultimately leading to his Academy Award triumph for his role in “An Officer and a Gentleman.”

His initiation into the world of acting commenced during his high school days in Brooklyn, where an injury sidelining him from basketball led him to participate in the school’s production of “You Can’t Take It with You.” From that moment, his passion for acting was ignited, propelling him onto the Broadway stage at the young age of 16.

Despite his tender years, Gossett’s talent shone brightly, earning him critical acclaim for his performances both on stage and television. He shared anecdotes of his early days rubbing shoulders with icons like Sidney Poitier, Ruby Dee, and Diana Sands, whose mentorship left an indelible mark on his craft.

Venturing into Hollywood in the 1960s, Gossett confronted the harsh realities of racism, recounting incidents of discrimination and injustice he faced simply due to the color of his skin. Despite these challenges, he remained resolute, refusing to let bigotry dampen his spirit.

Throughout his illustrious career spanning decades, Gossett continued to challenge stereotypes and break barriers, leaving an enduring legacy in the realm of entertainment. His contributions to stage and screen will forever be remembered, solidifying his place as a pioneer and inspiration to future generations of performers.

He established the Eracism Foundation with the aim of fostering a world devoid of racism.

Gossett embarked on a series of guest appearances on renowned shows such as “Bonanza,” “The Rockford Files,” “The Mod Squad,” “McCloud,” and notably shared the screen with Richard Pryor in an unforgettable episode of “The Partridge Family.”

In August 1969, Gossett found himself in a peculiar circumstance. After a night of revelry with members of the Mamas and the Papas, he returned home to freshen up, only to be confronted with shocking news on television about the murder of actor Sharon Tate by Charles Manson’s followers. Gossett reflected on his providential escape, pondering the reason behind his narrowly averted fate.

Born Louis Cameron Gossett on May 27, 1936, in Brooklyn’s Coney Island area to Louis Sr., a porter, and Hellen, a nurse, he later appended “Jr.” to his name in honor of his father.

Gossett soared to prominence on the small screen with his portrayal of Fiddler in the groundbreaking 1977 miniseries “Roots,” alongside luminaries such as Ben Vereen, LeVar Burton, and John Amos.

Achieving a significant milestone, Gossett became the third Black actor to earn an Oscar nomination in the supporting actor category in 1983. Recalling the moment of his win for his role as the formidable Marine drill instructor in “An Officer and a Gentleman,” he expressed disbelief and gratitude, cherishing the historical significance of the occasion. This triumph not only garnered him an Academy Award but also a Golden Globe.

Subsequently, Gossett leveraged his newfound acclaim to select roles in movies he deemed worthy. Despite personal challenges, including battles with addiction and health setbacks such as prostate cancer and a bout with COVID-19, Gossett maintained an unwavering dedication to his craft.

Survived by his sons Satie, a producer-director, and Sharron, a chef whom he adopted, Gossett leaves behind a legacy of resilience and artistic brilliance. His contributions to film and television, coupled with his philanthropic endeavors, serve as a testament to his enduring impact on the entertainment industry and society at large.

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