Louis Gossett Jr., Oscar-winning ‘An Officer and a Gentleman’ actor, dies at 87

Louis Gossett Jr., the first Black man to win a supporting actor Oscar, has died, according to multiple reports. He was 87.

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Gossett’s first cousin, Neal L. Gossett, confirmed that he died Friday morning in a statement to The Associated Press. No cause of death was immediately shared.

Gossett is best known for his career-defining roles in the groundbreaking TV miniseries “Roots,” which aired in the 1970s, and the 1982 film “An Officer and a Gentleman,” The Los Angeles Times reported. He won an Emmy for his role in “Roots” and an Oscar for his portrayal of Sgt. Emil Foley in “An Officer and a Gentleman.”

Born May 27, 1936, and raised in Sheepshead Bay, New York, Gossett began acting at 17, according to the Times. With encouragement from a high school drama teacher, he auditioned for a role in the Broadway play “Take a Giant Step,” NPR and The Washington Post reported.

“I knew nothing about acting,” he told the Post in 1997. “I had never even seen a play.”

He attended New York University on a basketball and drama scholarship and went on to appear on numerous TV shows, the AP reported. He was 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, according to the news agency.

He appeared as George Murchison in the original Broadway production of “A Raisin in the Sun” and went on to reprise the role in the 1961 for the movie version of the play, Variety reported.

The latter role brought him to Hollywood and, he wrote in his memoir, “face-to-face with racism.”

“I headed out to Hollywood not with reluctance because I was being sent by the William Morris Agency and being sent for by Lou Wasserman and Universal,” he told NPR in 2010. “And I was treated like a king and first class and limousines.”

However, he said that after he arrived, he was stopped by police several times. Eventually, he was handcuffed to a tree as officers tried to figure out what a young Black man was doing in town, the Times reported.

“I found out that I had to sacrifice something that was right in order to maneuver my way through early Hollywood, so I had to act as if I was second class,” he told NPR. “I had to behave myself. The only time I was really free was when the director said action in front of a camera or on the stage and that’s when I flew.”

But even after his commercial success, he struggled to find meaningful roles, the Times reported, fueling anger and frustration that he masked with drugs and alcohol. After he underwent treatment, he dedicated himself to charity work, founding the L.A.-based antiracism nonprofit the Eracism Foundation, according to the newspaper.

He appeared in dozens of films and television series over the course of his career, including in the 2023 film adaptation of “The Color Purple,” the 2019 TV series “Watchmen,” the 1985 movie “Enemy Mine” and 1986′s “Iron Eagle” and its subsequent sequels. He most recently appeared in two episodes of the TV series “Kingdom Business” in 2022 and 2023, according to IMDb.

Gossett’s cousin remembered him for his humor and his work to fight racism.

“Never mind the awards, never mind the glitz and glamor, the Rolls-Royces and the big houses in Malibu,” Neal Gossett told the AP. “It’s about the humanity of the people that he stood for.”

Louis Gossett, who was married and divorced three times, is survived by two sons: Satie and Sharron, the Times reported.

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