Oscar-winning actor Louis Gossett Jr, dies at 87

Louis Gossett Jr, the first black man to win a supporting actor Oscar, has died aged 87.

Louis Gossett Jr, the first black man to win a supporting actor Oscar, has died aged 87. Photo: Getty

Louis Gossett Jr, the first black man to win a supporting actor Oscar and an Emmy winner for his role in the seminal 1970s TV miniseries Roots, has died. He was 87.

Gossett’s nephew told The Associated Press that the actor died on Thursday night (local time) in Santa Monica, California.

No cause of death was revealed.

Gossett 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.

“In retrospect, I should have been scared to death as I walked onto that stage, but I wasn’t.”

Gossett moved to New York where he became friendly with James Dean and studied acting with Marilyn Monroe, Martin Landau and Steve McQueen at an offshoot of the Actors Studio taught by Frank Silvera.

He became a Broadway star, appearing alongside the likes of Sammy Davis Jr and Sidney Poitier (who was the first black man to win the best actor Oscar in 1964).

But it wasn’t long until Hollywood beckoned.

Gossett made a series of guest appearances on TV shows in the late 1960s and early 1970s, but broke through on the small screen as Fiddler in the groundbreaking 1977 miniseries Roots, which depicted the atrocities of slavery on TV.

His performance as the intimidating Marine drill instructor in An Officer and a Gentleman, opposite Richard Gere and Debra Winger, won him an Oscar and Golden Globe for best supporting actor in 1983.

“More than anything, it was a huge affirmation of my position as a black actor,” he wrote in his memoir.

But he said winning an Oscar didn’t change the fact that all his roles were supporting ones.

Gossett struggled with alcohol and cocaine addiction for years after his Oscar win. He went to rehab, where he was diagnosed with toxic mold syndrome, which he attributed to his house in Malibu.

Only last year, Gossett played an obstinate patriarch in the 2023 remake of The Color Purple.

Topics: Movies
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