Actor Louis Gossett Jr. passes at 87

Louis Gossett Jr., the first Black man to win an Academy Award as best supporting actor, has died aged 87, a family statement confirmed on Friday without revealing the cause of death.

The Oscar-winning actor’s roles ranged from an enslaved man in the TV mini-series Roots to a no-nonsense drill sergeant in An Officer And A Gentlemen. In Sadat, he had the title role, playing the Egyptian leader who made peace with Israel.

Gossett, who was also a producer, director, social activist and the founder of the Eracism Foundation to combat racism, died at a rehabilitation centre in Santa Monica, California, the Washington Post reported.  

“It is with our heartfelt regret to confirm our beloved father passed away this morning. We would like to thank everyone for their condolences at this time. Please respect the family’s privacy during this difficult time,” the actor’s family said in its brief statement.


The tall, imposing actor made history in 1983 when he became only the second Black man, after actor Sidney Poitier 19 years earlier, to win an Oscar. Gossett took home the award for best supporting actor as Sergeant Emil Foley in the romantic drama An Officer And A Gentleman.


“More than anything, it was a huge affirmation of my position as a Black actor,” Gossett said about the award in his memoir, An Officer And A Gentleman.”


In the 2010 book, Gossett wrote candidly about the racism he had encountered early in Hollywood, including being handcuffed to a tree after he was stopped for walking in Beverly Hills at night.


He also recounted the difficulty he faced getting jobs, the unequal pay compared to white actors and the bitterness and resentment that led to battles with drugs and alcohol that he ultimately won.

Gossett’s long and distinguished career began in the 1950s in the theater and spanned television and films. He was nominated for seven Emmys and won in 1977 in the groundbreaking TV production Roots, which depicted the brutality of slavery.  

“I knew it was historical for African-American actors – that finally on prime-time TV our story was going to be told. We didn’t think anybody was going to watch it,” Gossett said in an interview with AARP in 2013.

But tens of millions of people did. Based on Alex Haley’s novel “Roots: The Saga Of An American Family,” the eight-part series was a huge success. It won nine Emmy awards and had higher ratings than any previous entertainment programme in history, according to the Museum of Broadcast Communications. (Reuters)



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