First Black man to win an Oscar for supporting actor, Louis Gossett Jr., passes away

Louis Gossett Jr., a trailblazing actor who made history as the first Black man to win a supporting actor Oscar and an Emmy for his remarkable performance in the groundbreaking TV miniseries “Roots,” has passed away at the age of 87.

The death of Gossett was confirmed by his cousin, Neal L. Gossett, according to CBS News. The actor passed away on Thursday night in Santa Monica, California, as reported by The Associated Press. The cause of death has not been disclosed.

“We are deeply saddened to inform you that our dear father passed away this morning. We sincerely appreciate all the condolences we have received during this challenging time. We kindly request that you respect our family’s privacy as we grieve,” the family expressed in a statement on Friday.

Gossett viewed his early career as a reverse Cinderella tale, where success discovered him at a young age and propelled him towards winning an Academy Award for his role in “An Officer and a Gentleman.”

During his time on the basketball team at his Brooklyn high school, he suffered an injury that forced him to take a step back from the sport. However, this setback led him to discover a hidden talent in acting. He made his debut performance in the school’s production of “You Can’t Take It with You,” marking the beginning of his journey as an actor.

“I was completely captivated – and so was my audience,” he expressed in his 2010 memoir “An Actor and a Gentleman.”

At the age of 16, he made his Broadway debut in 1953 after his English teacher encouraged him to audition for “Take a Giant Step.” He successfully secured the role and ventured into Manhattan to pursue his acting career.

“I had such limited knowledge that I didn’t feel nervous,” Gossett expressed. “Looking back, I should have been terrified as I stepped onto that stage, but I didn’t feel that way.”

Carl Weathers attended New York University on a basketball and drama scholarship. He quickly found himself performing and singing on various TV shows hosted by David Susskind, Ed Sullivan, Red Buttons, Merv Griffin, Jack Paar, and Steve Allen. Weathers developed a close friendship with James Dean and honed his acting skills by studying under the guidance of Marilyn Monroe, Martin Landau, and Steve McQueen at a branch of the Actors Studio that was taught by Frank Silvera.

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In 1959, Gossett garnered high praise for his exceptional performance in the Broadway production of “A Raisin in the Sun” alongside acclaimed actors Sidney Poitier, Ruby Dee, and Diana Sands.

“I had the privilege of collaborating with legendary actors such as Sidney Poitier, Diana Sands, and Ruby Dee. It was an absolute delight,” Gossett expressed in a 2020 interview with CBS News. “They not only demonstrated the essence of excellence but also provided invaluable lessons on distinguishing between the good and the bad. Their teachings resonated deeply with me, and I developed an unquenchable passion for the craft. Acting runs through my veins.”

In 1964, Gossett’s talent shone brightly on Broadway when he took over the role of Billy Daniels in “Golden Boy,” alongside Sammy Davis Jr.

In 1961, Gossett made his first trip to Hollywood to film the adaptation of “A Raisin in the Sun.” However, his experience was marred by bitter memories of staying in a cockroach-infested motel. At that time, there were only a few places that allowed Black people like him.

In 1968, he made a comeback to Hollywood by landing a significant role in “Companions in Nightmare,” which was NBC’s inaugural made-for-TV movie. The film featured a star-studded cast including Melvyn Douglas, Anne Baxter, and Patrick O’Neal.

Gossett found himself staying at the luxurious Beverly Hills Hotel on this occasion, with Universal Studios having provided him with a rented convertible. As he made his way back to the hotel after picking up the car, he was pulled over by a Los Angeles County sheriff’s officer. The officer instructed him to lower the volume of the radio and put up the car’s roof before allowing him to proceed.

Eight sheriff’s officers stopped him within minutes and had him lean against the car. They made him open the trunk while they called the car rental agency before eventually letting him go.

“My system experienced a significant event. It was a moment that required my attention and caution. I distinctly recall the incident that took place in 2020,” Gossett shared, reflecting on the occurrence. “When people talk about the importance of Black lives, it’s crucial to remember that all lives hold value. The repercussions of their actions not only affected me but also inflicted harm upon themselves.”

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After enjoying a delightful dinner at the hotel, he decided to take a leisurely stroll. However, his peaceful evening was abruptly interrupted when a police officer approached him just a block away. The officer informed him that he had violated a law that prohibited walking around residential Beverly Hills after 9 p.m. To his surprise, two additional officers soon joined the scene. In a shocking turn of events, he found himself chained to a tree and handcuffed for a seemingly endless three hours. Fortunately, his ordeal came to an end when the initial police car returned, leading to his eventual release.

He wrote that encountering racism was a disturbing experience, but he remained resilient, refusing to let it overpower him.

In the late 1990s, Gossett shared an incident where he got pulled over by the police on Pacific Coast Highway. He was driving his beautifully restored 1986 Rolls Royce Corniche II at the time. The officer stopped him, mentioning that he resembled someone they were looking for. However, upon recognizing Gossett, the officer promptly let him go.

He established the Eracism Foundation with the aim of fostering a world free from the scourge of racism.

Gossett had the opportunity to make several guest appearances on popular shows, including “Bonanza,” “The Rockford Files,” “The Mod Squad,” “McCloud,” and a particularly memorable performance alongside Richard Pryor on “The Partridge Family.”

In August 1969, Gossett partied with members of the Mamas and the Papas before receiving an invitation to actor Sharon Tate’s house. He decided to head home first to shower and change clothes. Just as he was getting ready to leave, a news flash on TV caught his attention – it was about Tate’s murder. That night, she and others were tragically killed by Charles Manson’s associates.

He wrote that there must have been a reason for him escaping that bullet.

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Louis Cameron Gossett Jr. was born on May 27, 1936, in the vibrant neighborhood of Coney Island, Brooklyn, New York. His parents, Louis Sr., a hardworking porter, and Hellen, a dedicated nurse, provided a nurturing environment for him to grow. In honor of his beloved father, he later added Jr. to his name.

Gossett made his breakthrough on the small screen when he portrayed Fiddler in the revolutionary 1977 miniseries “Roots,” which brought the horrors of slavery to television. This groundbreaking production featured a stellar cast that included Ben Vereen, LeVar Burton, and John Amos.

In 1983, Gossett made history as the third Black actor to receive an Oscar nomination in the supporting actor category. Reflecting on his win for his powerful portrayal of the intimidating Marine drill instructor in “An Officer and a Gentleman,” alongside Richard Gere and Debra Winger, Gossett admitted that he initially didn’t realize he had emerged victorious.

He expressed his commitment to the task at hand, highlighting its significance for everyone involved.

After winning an Oscar, Gossett faced a challenging battle with alcohol and cocaine addiction that lasted for years. Seeking help, he entered a rehabilitation program where he received a diagnosis of toxic mold syndrome, which he believed was caused by his residence in Malibu.

In 2010, Gossett made a public announcement about his diagnosis of prostate cancer, emphasizing that it was detected during its initial stages. A decade later, in 2020, he faced another health challenge as he was admitted to the hospital due to COVID-19.

Satie and Sharron are the surviving sons of the late. Satie, a talented producer-director, is from his second marriage, while Sharron, a skilled chef, was adopted after the heartwarming encounter with the 7-year-old on a TV segment highlighting children in dire circumstances. Notably, actor Robert Gossett is also his first cousin.

Gossett’s first marriage to Hattie Glascoe was nullified. Unfortunately, his second marriage to Christina Mangosing ended in divorce in 1975, and the same fate befell his third marriage to actor Cyndi James-Reese in 1992.

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