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Acting Legend Louis Gossett Jr. Passes Away At 87

March 31, 2024 | Posted by Jeremy Thomas
Louis Gossett Jr Iron Eagle Image Credit: Sony Pictures

Louis Gossett Jr., the legendary actor who became the first Black man to win an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, has passed away. The AP reports that Gossett passed away on Friday morning in in Santa Monica, California. He was 87 years old.

Gossett was a pivotal actor in the late 1970s through the 1980s in particular, launching to mainstream star status via his role in the miniseries Roots in 1977 and earning the aforementioned Best Supporting Actor award in 1982 for An Officer and a Gentleman. While those are inarguably his most well-known roles, Gossett worked regularly from the 1960s through to the end of his life and is known for films like the Iron Eagle franchise, Enemy Mine, The Punisher, Toy Soldiers and Diggstown. He also starred in a number of television shows like The Young Rebels, The Powers of Matthew Star, and Watchmen.

Gossett was born in 1936 in Coney Island, New York and got into acting at Abraham Lincoln High School, when he decided to take an acting class while down due to a sports injury. His high school teacher encouraged him to audition for Broadway and he made his professional stage debut with 1953’s Take a Giant Step, winning the Donaldson Award for best newcomer of the year. While he was offered a chance to play basketball with the New York Knicks, he turned it down for an acting role in A Raisin in the Sun in 1959 which won best play at the New York Drama Critics’ Circle.

Gossett parlayed that success into his feature film debut with the 1961 film adaptation of the stage play. That film was a success, but Gossett stayed on the stage for several years afterward with roles in The Blacks which was the longest running off-Broadway play of the 1960s as well as Tambourines to Glory, Golden Boy, My Sweet Charlie and more. He was also recognized as an accomplished folk musician and wrote the antiwar song “Handsome Johnny” with Richie Havens, which Havens recorded and released in 1967.

Gossett returned to the big screen with 1969’s The Bushbaby and began working more regularly on film and TV from that point forward. He had roles in the films The Landlord, Skin Game, and the blaxploitation ghost revenge film J. D.’s Revenge among others. He also took on guest starring roles in TV shows like The Partridge Family, Bonanza, Good Times, The Rockford Files, Police Story, and The Mod Squad. This culminated into his true breakout role as Fiddler in ABC’s Roots, which earned him an Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor for a Single Appearance in a Drama or Comedy Series. That same year saw him star in The Deep as the villainous Henri ‘Cloche’ Bondurant. That film became a big hit with a gross of over $100 million worldwide.

Following his breakout success, Gossett worked regularly with acclaimed roles in the likes of Backstairs at the White House in 1979 and a guest starring role in Palmerstown, U.S.A. in 1981, both of which earned him awards recognition. An Officer And a Gentleman came in 1982 and propelled him to his historic Best Supporting Actor win, followed by an Emmy-nominated lead role in Sadat in 1983. His most mainstream period came after this with roles in Jaws 3-D, Finders Keepers, Enemy Mine, the Iron Eagle films, The Principal, The Punisher, and A Gathering of Old Men, which earned him yet another Emmy nomination. Over the course of his career, Gossett tallied an Oscar win, eight Emmy nominations (and one win) and three Golden Globe nominations with two wins.

Gossett’s prominence fell off in the 1990s and 2000s as he battled a debilitating illness, which he was once given six months to live. He later learned that the illiness was toxic mold syndrome. Even with that, he worked regularly and amassed an astounding 200 film and television credits during his career. Among his final roles were that of Hooded Justice in 2019’s Watchmen and last year’s The Color Purple, which was his final role released during his life. He has a voice role in the upcoming Ryan Reynolds comedy IF as well as rols in Soul to Keep, Sin and Unplugged.

On behalf of 411, our condolences to the family, friends, and many fans of Louis Gossett Jr. He will be missed.

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Louis Gossett Jr., Jeremy Thomas