Star of ‘An Officer and a Gentleman’ and ‘Roots’ Louis Gossett Jr., Dies at 87

Gossett Jr. was the first Black man to win a supporting Oscar.

Louis Gossett Jr. has reportedly passed away at the age of 87.

According to CBS News, the Academy Award-winning actor died Thursday night, March 28, in Santa Monica, California.

Respected in Hollywood, Gossett’s career spanned more than six decades. His Oscar-winning performance as Sergeant Emil Foley in the 1982 feature film, An Officer and a Gentleman and his Emmy-winning portrayal as Fiddler in the iconic TV miniseries, Roots, established him as a talented character actor.

Throughout his career, Gossett championed for more roles written for Black actors. In 1982, he told a New York Times reporter how he’d like to see a change in Hollywood. “No writers are writing for us, and no producers are producing,” he told the outlet. “Eventually the problem will get so bad that the public will begin to think of us only in terms of a black film, with a black story. We should be represented in the overall fabric of America. They should show us in restaurants, in courtrooms, on the streets, in bars. They should show us as police and judges, because that's the way we really are.”

Father's Day Tribute: Louis Gossett Jr.

 Gossett never stopped advocating for positive and fair opportunities for Black people in the entertainment and creative industries. He was a respected humanitarian who used his voice and platform to educate Black children.

According to TheHistoryMakers, Gossett once partnered with Father George Clements to develop Shamba Centers to teach African American history and culture. He also developed the non-profit, Eracism, in an effort to combat racism in America and abroad. 

Born on May 27, 1936, in Brooklyn, New York to Hellen Rebecca Wray Gossett and Louis Gossett Sr., Gossett grew up in a neighborhood that cultivated and supported the arts.

A natural-born actor, Gossett’s performance in a high school production of You Can’t Take It With You, caught the attention of talent scouts. He was selected for Broadway’s Take A Giant Step, for which he won the 1952 Donaldson Award for best newcomer to the theater.

Standing at 6’4’’, Gossett was awarded a basketball scholarship to New York University, but he turned it down to pursue an acting career. Instead he studied at The Actors Studio, famously known as the “home of method acting.”

Gossett’s big break came in 1959 when he landed a role as George Murchison in Lorraine Hansberry’s groundbreaking stage play, A Raisin in the Sun co-starring Sidney Poitier, Ruby Dee and Glynn Turman. A Raisin in the Sun was the first play written by a black woman to be produced on Broadway. Gossett was also cast in the 1961 film adaptation, his movie debut. That same year he was cast alongside then-unknown actors, James Earl Jones, Cicely Tyson and Maya Angelou in the off-Broadway production, The Blacks.

 Gossett eventually ventured to the small screen and appeared in numerous television shows throughout his career including, The Invader, The Bill Cosby Show, The Mod Squad, and The Jeffersons, to name a few. In 1977, he was cast in one of the most iconic television shows to ever air, Alex Haley’s Roots, for which he earned an Emmy. In 1991, he scored a Golden Globe Award for his performance in The Josephine Baker Story, where he played civil rights activist Sidney Williams.

Gossett worked consistently in film and television since he first stepped on stage in the 1950s. Some of his most recent work was on HBO’s superhero drama, The Watchmen.  

His first marriage to Hattie Glascoe was annulled. The actor’s subsequent marriages to Christina Mangosing and Cyndi James-Reese both ended in divorce.   

Gossett is survived by his two children: Satie and Sharron Gossett.

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