Trailblazing Black Oscar Winner Louis Gossett Jr Passes Away At 87

Louis Gossett Jr., the first Black man to win an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his role as a hard-man drill instructor in “An Officer and a Gentleman,” died. He was 87.

Gossett’s family confirmed he died Thursday night in Los Angeles, but no cause was given, according to numerous US media agencies, including CBS News.

Gossett performed in over 60 films and was the third Black actor to receive an Academy Award in 1983, following Hattie McDaniel and Sidney Poitier, for his supporting part as a stern gunnery sergeant in Taylor Hackford’s “An Officer and a Gentleman.”

The actor received a Golden Globe for “The Josephine Baker Story,” as well as an Emmy for the ABC miniseries “Roots.”

The New York native, who declared in 2010 that he had prostate cancer, built a tough guy persona that paid benefits in a spate of action films, including “Iron Eagle” (1986) and “The Punisher” (1989).

In his biography, “An Actor and a Gentleman,” Gossett detailed his terrible experiences as a trailblazing Black actor, including his first trip to Los Angeles in the 1960s, when he was pulled over by police four times in a single car.

“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,” he told The LA Times in 2008.

‘Someone with history’

Gossett divorced his third wife in 1992 and moved to Malibu, California, where he raised two sons.

Born on May 27, 1936, in Brooklyn, New York, he began his career on stage with “Take a Giant Step,” named one of The New York Times’ top ten Broadway productions of 1953.

He landed a role in Lorraine Hansberry’s 1959 Broadway production of “A Raisin in the Sun” before making his Hollywood debut two years later opposite Poitier in the film.

His other credits include “The Deep,” “Blue Chips,” “Daddy’s Little Girls,” “Firewalker” and “Jaws-3D.”

Gossett Jr rose to prominence on television, winning an Emmy for his role as the slave Fiddler in “Roots,” a global phenomenon that drew over 100 million viewers for its finale in January 1977.

He was nominated for the top television award six more times, including for his depiction of Anwar Sadat in the 1983 miniseries “Sadat.”

In 2015, he told Variety, the entertainment industry bible, that his favorite role was in the TV movie as the Egyptian leader who made peace with Israel.

“It was a challenge to play someone with a history like that. His spirit was very much like Mandela’s. He transitioned from a hawk to a dove,” he said.

He continued to work well into his 70s, appearing briefly on HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire” and CBS shows “Extant” and “Madam Secretary,” as well as NBC’s “ER” and HBO superhero series “Watchmen.”

“In our eyes, you were a LEADING man despite your many inspiring roles as supporting characters. Thank you for your undeniable talent,” civil rights attorney Ben Crump said on X, formerly Twitter.

Gossett Jr’s representatives did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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