Louis Gossett Jr dead at 87: First black man to win supporting actor Oscar for his role in An Office and a Gentleman passes away in Santa Monica

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Written By Maya Cantina
  • His daughter confirmed his passing on Thursday night in Santa Monica, CA 
  • Gossett Jr’s cause of death aged 87 has not been revealed  

Oscar-winner Louis Gossett Jr., known for his turns in An Officer and a Gentleman and Jaws III, has died at the age of 87.

His daughter confirmed his passing on Thursday night in Santa Monica, California. No cause of death was given, however he had previously announced in 2010 that he was diagnosed with prostate cancer. 

Gossett revealed this past year that he gave up a potential professional basketball career with the New York Knicks when he decided to head to Hollywood.   

He earned his first acting credit in his Brooklyn high school’s production of ‘You Can’t Take It with You’ while he was sidelined from the basketball team with an injury.

‘I was hooked — and so was my audience,’ he wrote in his 2010 memoir ‘An Actor and a Gentleman.’ 

His decades-long acting career quickly took off after his first performance, as an English teacher urged him to go into Manhattan to try out for the production of ‘Take a Giant Step’. He got the part, and debuted on Broadway in 1953 aged 16. 

Oscar-winner Louis Gossett Jr., known for his turns in An Officer and a Gentleman and Jaws III, has died at the age of 87, pictured here in 2016

Gossett Jr., poses with the Oscar for best supporting actor for his role in An Officer and a Gentleman, in 1983. He became the first black man to win the supporting actor gong

Gossett Jr., poses with the Oscar for best supporting actor for his role in An Officer and a Gentleman, in 1983. He became the first black man to win the supporting actor gong 

‘I knew too little to be nervous,’ Gossett wrote of his acting break. ‘In retrospect, I should have been scared to death as I walked onto that stage, but I wasn’t.’

Gossett attended New York University on a basketball and drama scholarship. He was soon acting and singing on TV shows hosted by stars including David Susskind, Ed Sullivan, Red Buttons, Merv Griffin, Jack Paar and Steve Allen.

Gossett became friendly with James Dean and studied acting with Marilyn Monroe, Martin Landau and Steve McQueen at an offshoot of the Actors Studio taught by Frank Silvera.

In 1959, Gossett received critical acclaim for his role in the Broadway production of ‘A Raisin in the Sun’ along with Sidney Poitier, Ruby Dee and Diana Sands.

He went on to become a star on Broadway, replacing Billy Daniels in ‘Golden Boy’ with Sammy Davis Jr. in 1964.

Gossett went to Hollywood for the first time in 1961 to make the film version of ‘A Raisin in the Sun.’ He had bitter memories of that trip, staying in a cockroach-infested motel that was one of the few places to allow Black people. 

In 1968, he returned to Hollywood for a major role in ‘Companions in Nightmare,’ NBC’s first made-for-TV movie that starred Melvyn Douglas, Anne Baxter and Patrick O’Neal.

This time, Gossett was booked into the Beverly Hills Hotel and Universal Studios had rented him a convertible. Driving back to the hotel after picking up the car, he was stopped by a Los Angeles County sheriff’s officer who ordered him to turn down the radio and put up the car’s roof before letting him go.

Gossett is honored at the Hollywood Legacy Award American Black Film Festival in February 2020

Gossett is honored at the Hollywood Legacy Award American Black Film Festival in February 2020

Gossett pictured during the filming of the 1986 movie Iron Eagle

Gossett pictured during the filming of the 1986 movie Iron Eagle 

Gossett Jr celebrates his 1982 Oscar win with actress Susan Sarandon (left) and Superman star Christopher Reeve (right)

Gossett Jr celebrates his 1982 Oscar win with actress Susan Sarandon (left) and Superman star Christopher Reeve (right) 

The acting star, pictured aged 79 at a Golden Globes pre-party celebration in 2016, was also known for his anti-racism activism

The acting star, pictured aged 79 at a Golden Globes pre-party celebration in 2016, was also known for his anti-racism activism 

Within minutes, he was stopped by eight sheriff’s officers, who had him lean against the car and made him open the trunk while they called the car rental agency before letting him go.

‘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.’

After dinner at the hotel, he went for a walk and was stopped a block away by a police officer, who told him he broke a law prohibiting walking around residential Beverly Hills after 9 p.m. 

Two other officers arrived and Gossett said he was chained to a tree and handcuffed for three hours. He was eventually freed when the original police car returned.

‘Now I had come face-to-face with racism, and it was an ugly sight,’ he wrote. ‘But it was not going to destroy me.’

In the late 1990s, Gossett said he was pulled over by police on Pacific Coast Highway while driving his restored 1986 Rolls Royce Corniche II. 

The officer told him he looked like someone they were searching for, but the officer recognized Gossett and left.

Through his experiences combatting discrimination, he founded the Eracism Foundation to help create a world where racism doesn’t exist.

Gossett made a series of guest appearances on such shows as ‘Bonanza,’ ‘The Rockford Files,’ ‘The Mod Squad,’ ‘McCloud’ and a memorable turn with Richard Pryor on ‘The Partridge Family.’

Gossett made a series of guest appearances on such shows as 'Bonanza,' 'The Rockford Files,' 'The Mod Squad,' 'McCloud' and a memorable turn with Richard Pryor on 'The Partridge Family

Gossett made a series of guest appearances on such shows as ‘Bonanza,’ ‘The Rockford Files,’ ‘The Mod Squad,’ ‘McCloud’ and a memorable turn with Richard Pryor on ‘The Partridge Family

Louis Cameron Gossett was born on May 27, 1936, in the Coney Island section of Brooklyn, New York, to Louis Sr., a porter, and Hellen, a nurse. He later added Jr. to his name to honor his father

Louis Cameron Gossett was born on May 27, 1936, in the Coney Island section of Brooklyn, New York, to Louis Sr., a porter, and Hellen, a nurse. He later added Jr. to his name to honor his father

In August 1969, Gossett had a bizarre near-brush with convicted killer and cult-leader Charles Manson, after he was invited to actress Sharon Tate’s home while partying with members of the band Mamas and the Papas. 

He headed home first to shower and change clothes. As he was getting ready to leave, he caught a news flash on TV about Tate’s murder. She and others were killed by Charles Manson’s associates that night.

‘There had to be a reason for my escaping this bullet,’ he wrote.

Born on May 27, 1936, in the Coney Island section of Brooklyn, New York, his father Louis Sr., was a porter, and mother Hellen, a nurse. He later added Jr. to his name to honor his father.

After his early Broadway success, he broke through on the small screen as Fiddler in the groundbreaking 1977 miniseries ‘Roots,’ which depicted the atrocities of slavery on TV. The sprawling cast included Ben Vereen, LeVar Burton and John Amos.

Gossett became the third Black Oscar nominee in the supporting actor category in 1983. He won for his performance as the intimidating Marine drill instructor in ‘An Officer and a Gentleman’ opposite Richard Gere and Debra Winger. He also won a Golden Globe for the same role.

‘More than anything, it was a huge affirmation of my position as a Black actor,’ he wrote in his memoir.

Gossett Jr's breakout on the small screen came in his role on TV drama 'Roots', which won him an Emmy in 1977 (seen at the awards ceremony)

Gossett Jr’s breakout on the small screen came in his role on TV drama ‘Roots’, which won him an Emmy in 1977 (seen at the awards ceremony) 

‘The Oscar gave me the ability of being able to choose good parts in movies like ‘Enemy Mine,’ ‘Sadat’ and ‘Iron Eagle,’ Gossett said in Dave Karger’s 2024 book ’50 Oscar Nights.’

He said his statue was in storage.

‘I’m going to donate it to a library so I don’t have to keep an eye on it,’ he said in the book. ‘I need to be free of it.’

Gossett appeared in such TV movies as ‘The Story of Satchel Paige,’ ‘Backstairs at the White House, ‘The Josephine Baker Story,’ for which he won another Golden Globe, and ‘Roots Revisited.’

But he said winning an Oscar didn’t change the fact that all his roles were supporting ones.

He played an obstinate patriarch in the 2023 remake of ‘The Color Purple.’

Gossett struggled with alcohol and cocaine addiction for years after his Oscar win. He went to rehab, where he was diagnosed with toxic mold syndrome, which he attributed to his house in Malibu.

In 2010, Gossett announced he had prostate cancer, which he said was caught in the early stages. In 2020, he was hospitalized 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 7-year-old in a TV segment on children in desperate situations. His first cousin is actor Robert Gossett.

Gossett’s first marriage to Hattie Glascoe was annulled. His second, to Christina Mangosing, ended in divorce in 1975 as did his third to actor Cyndi James-Reese in 1992.

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