Louis Gossett Jr, the first Black man to win Best Supporting Actor Oscar, dies aged 87

Actor made history with his performance in ‘An Officer and a Gentleman’ opposite Richard Gere in 1982

Maira Butt
Friday 29 March 2024 17:46 GMT
Black American actor explains difference between prejudice in UK and US

Louis Gossett Jr, the first Black man to win an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, has died aged 87.

The star died on Thursday night (28 March) in Santa Monica, California, according to his nephew who told the Associated Press.

His cause of death has not been disclosed.

Gossett won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role as the intimidating marine drill instructor, Gunnery Sergeant Emil Foley, in the 1982 movie An Officer and a Gentleman.

He was the first Black man in history to win the prize, and also won a Golden Globe for the same performance, opposite co-stars Richard Gere and Debra Winger.

More recently, he starred in the 2023 musical period drama film The Colour Purple, based on the stage musical of the same name, which in turn was adapted from Alice Walker’s 1985 novel. The film received critical praise and also starred Fantasia Barrino, Taraji P Henson, Colman Domingo and Halle Bailey.

Gossett was born on 27 May 1936 in the Coney Island district of Brooklyn, New York to his father, Louis, a porter and his mother, Hellen, who was a nurse. He added the suffix “Jr” later in his career to honour his father.

He broke through on the small screen as Fiddler in the groundbreaking 1977 TV miniseries Roots, which depicted the atrocities of slavery. He was awarded an Emmy for his performance in the drama, which was based on Alex Haley’s 1976 novel, Roots: The Saga of an American Family.

Louis Gossett Jr has died aged 87 (Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP)

The series and book followed the story of a young man, Kunta Kinte, who is captured in Gambia aged 17, put on a slave ship for a four-month passage to North America and sold. The programme depicts seven generations of his descendants as they explore their origins.

Richard Gere and Louis Gossett Jr in ‘An Officer and a Gentleman’ (Moviestore/Shutterstock)

Reflecting on his Oscar win in his memoir, An Actor and a Gentleman, in 2010, Gossett wrote: “More than anything, it was a huge affirmation of my position as a Black actor.”

Contributing to Dave Karger’s 2024 book, 50 Oscar Nights, he commented: “The Oscar gave me the ability of being able to choose good parts in movies like Enemy Mine, Sadat and Iron Eagle.”

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Gossett Jr played the role of intimidating marine drill sergeant in the movie that landed him an Oscar (Paramount/Kobal/Shutterstock)

However, Gossett also noted that his Oscar win did not change the fact that he was never cast in a leading role, and only ever played supporting characters throughout his career.

His Oscar statuette was in storage, he revealed: “I’m going to donate it to a library so I don’t have to keep an eye on it. I need to be free of it.”

The actor made history with his Oscar win (AP)

In 2010, Gossett announced he had prostate cancer, which he said was caught in the early stages. In 2020, he was admitted to hospital with Covid-19.

He is survived by sons Satie, a producer-director from his second marriage, and Sharron, a chef whom he adopted after seeing the seven-year-old in a TV segment on children in desperate situations. His first cousin is actor Robert Gossett.

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