Louis Gossett Jr. Photo provided

Overview:

Beloved actor and activist Louis Gossett Jr. passes away at 87. His groundbreaking career spanned over five decades and he left a lasting legacy in Hollywood history.

Louis Gossett Jr., the groundbreaking actor whose career spanned over five decades and who became the first Black actor to win an Academy Award as Best Supporting Actor for his memorable role in 鈥淎n Officer and a Gentleman,鈥 has died.

Gossett, who was born on May 27, 1936, in Brooklyn, N.Y., was 87. Recognized early on for his resilience and nearly unmatched determination, Gossett arrived in Los Angeles in 1967 after a stint on Broadway.

He sometimes spoke of being pulled over by law enforcement en route to Beverly Hills, once being handcuffed to a tree, which he remembered as a jarring introduction to the racial tensions of Hollywood. 

In his memoir 鈥淎n Actor and a Gentleman,鈥 Gossett recounted the ordeal, noting the challenges faced by Black artists in the industry.

Despite the hurdles, Gossett鈥檚 talent shone brightly, earning him acclaim in groundbreaking productions such as 鈥淎 Raisin in the Sun鈥 alongside Sidney Poitier. His Emmy-winning portrayal of Fiddler in 鈥淩oots鈥 solidified his status as a trailblazer, navigating a landscape fraught with racial prejudice.

According to the , which interviewed him in 2005, Gossett鈥檚 journey into the limelight began during his formative years at PS 135 and Mark Twain Junior High School, where he demonstrated early leadership as the student body president. 

His passion for the arts blossomed when he starred in a 鈥淵ou Can鈥檛 Take It With You鈥 production at Abraham Lincoln High School, catching the attention of talent scouts who propelled him onto Broadway鈥檚 stage in 鈥淭ake A Giant Step.鈥 His stellar performance earned him the prestigious Donaldson Award for Best Newcomer to Theatre in 1952.

Though initially drawn to sports, Gossett鈥檚 towering 6鈥4鈥 frame and athletic prowess led him to receive a basketball scholarship at New York University. Despite being drafted by the New York Knicks in 1958, Gossett pursued his love for acting, honing his craft at The Actors Studio under the tutelage of luminaries like John Sticks and Peggy Fury.

In 1961, Gossett鈥檚 talent caught the eye of Broadway directors, leading to roles in acclaimed productions such as 鈥淩aisin in the Sun鈥 and 鈥淭he Blacks,鈥 alongside legends like James Earl Jones, Cicely Tyson, Roscoe Lee Brown, and Maya Angelou. Transitioning seamlessly to television, Gossett graced small screens with appearances in notable shows like 鈥淭he Bush Baby鈥 and 鈥淐ompanions in Nightmare.鈥

Gossett鈥檚 silver screen breakthrough came with his role in 鈥淭he Landlord,鈥 paving the way for a prolific filmography that spanned over 50 movies and hundreds of television shows. From 鈥淪kin Game鈥 to 鈥淟ackawanna Blues,鈥 Gossett captivated audiences with his commanding presence and versatile performances.

However, his portrayal of 鈥淔iddler鈥 in Alex Haley鈥檚 groundbreaking miniseries 鈥淩oots鈥 earned Gossett critical acclaim, including an Emmy Award. The HistoryMakers noted that his golden touch extended to the big screen, where his role as Sergeant Emil Foley in 鈥淎n Officer and a Gentleman鈥 earned him an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, making him a trailblazer in Hollywood history.

Beyond the glitz and glamour of Hollywood, Gossett was deeply committed to community activism. In 1964, he co-founded a theater group for troubled youth alongside James Earl Jones and Paul Sorvino, setting the stage for his lifelong dedication to mentoring and inspiring the next generation. Gossett鈥檚 tireless advocacy for racial equality culminated in the establishment of Eracism, a nonprofit organization dedicated to combating racism both domestically and abroad.

Throughout his illustrious career, Gossett remained a beacon of strength and resilience, using his platform to uplift marginalized voices and champion social change. Satie and Sharron, Gossett鈥檚 children, survive him.

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