Actor Louis Gossett Jr. Dies at 87: First Black Man to Win Supporting Oscar

Actor Louis Gossett Jr. Dies at 87: First Black Man to Win Supporting Oscar

©An Officer and a Gentleman/Courtesy of Paramount Pictures 

Louis Gossett Jr., the first Black man to win an Oscar for best supporting actor, died in Santa Monica, California on Friday morning. He was 87.

No cause of death was revealed, but it is known that Gossett had been suffering from prostate cancer. He had also been hospitalized during the coronavirus pandemic.
In announcing his death, his cousin Neal L. Gossett told reporters: “Never mind the awards, never mind the glitz and glamor, the Rolls-Royces and the big houses in Malibu. It’s about the humanity of the people that he stood for.”

After appearing in several Broadway productions, Gossett made his television debut in 1977, playing Fiddler in the iconic miniseries Roots, which depicted the dark legacy of slavery in America. In 1983, for his role as a Marine drill instructor in An Officer and a Gentleman, he became only the third Black actor to receive an Oscar nomination in the supporting actor category, which he won. Gossett remained active until the very end. In 2023, he made his final film appearance in a remake of The Color Purple, playing an obstinate patriarch.

In his 2010 memoir, An Actor and a Gentleman, Gossett wrote: “More than anything, [the Oscar award] was a huge affirmation of my position as a Black actor.”

Gossett began his performing career as a teenager in his Brooklyn high school, when he was cast in a production of You Can’t Take It with You. “I was hooked—and so was my audience,” he recalled. Encouraged by his teacher, he made his Broadway debut in Take a Giant Step in 1953, when he was sixteen.

The actor later attended NYU on a basketball and drama scholarship. Gossett appeared on a number of variety shows in the 1950s, including those hosted by Ed Sullivan, Red Buttons, Merv Griffin, Jack Paar, and David Susskind. He later appeared on Broadway in Raisin in the Sun, where he worked with Sidney Poitier and Ruby Dee. In 1963, he starred with Sammy Davis Jr. in Golden Boy.

When Gossett went to Hollywood in the 1960s. he experienced first-hand the racial prejudice suffered by Black men in America. While driving, he was harassed by local police on several occasions, and was handcuffed and chained to a tree for three hours for walking at night in the upscale Beverly Hills neighborhood.

“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 memoir. “I realized 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.”

“Now I had come face-to-face with racism, and it was an ugly sight,” he continued. “But it was not going to destroy me.” Gossett established the Eracism Foundation to envision a world free of such bigoted behavior.

News of Gossett’s passing brought tributes from many of his friends and colleagues, including singer Dionne Warwick, who said, “Another dear one has made his transition. Lou was set to play the role of my grandfather in the proposed feature film of my life. I will miss my friend and send heartfelt condolences to his family.”

Gossett is survived by his son Satie and his adopted daughter Sharron.

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