Louis Gossett Jr, the first black man to win an Oscar for best supporting actor, dies

By John Mercury March 31, 2024

Louis Gossett Jr, the first black man to win a supporting actor Oscar for his role in An Officer And A Gentleman, has died aged 87.

The actor’s family released a statement confirming he died on Friday morning.

“It is with our heartfelt regret to confirm our beloved father passed away this morning,” the statement said.

“We would like to thank everyone for their condolences at this time. Please respect the family’s privacy during this difficult time.”

Gossett’s nephew told The Associated Press the actor was in Santa Monica, California, at the time.

No cause of death was revealed.

Pic: Everett/Shutterstock
Gere and Gossett in An Officer And A Gentlemen. Pic: Everett/Shutterstock

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 in 1982.

He also won a Golden Globe for the same role.

“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 film expert, Dave Karger’s, 2024 book “50 Oscar Nights”.

He said at the time that his statue was in storage.

FILE - Louis Gossett Jr., poses with the Oscar for best supporting actor for his role in "An Officer and a Gentleman," at the annual Academy Awards presentation in Los Angeles on April 11, 1983. Gossett Jr., the first Black man to win a supporting actor Oscar and an Emmy winner for his role in the seminal TV miniseries ...Roots,... has died. He was 87. (AP Photo, File)
The star became the third black Oscar nominee in the supporting actor category. Pic: AP

Born on 27 May 1936, in Brooklyn, New York, Gossett later added Junior to his name to honour his father.

He first started acting in school productions and at the age of 16 made his Broadway debut in the play Take A Giant Step.

Having studied at New York University on a basketball and drama scholarship, the actor became friends with Hollywood great James Dean and studied acting alongside Marilyn Monroe, Martin Landau and Steve McQueen.

In 1959 he gained critical acclaim for his role in the Broadway production of A Raisin In The Sun, and in 1961 appeared in the film version of the same production.




Film and Television
Roots , Louis Gossett Jr

Gossett in Roots in 1977. Pic: Moviestore/Shutterstock

Gossett’s big break on the small screen was as Fiddler in the 1977 TV miniseries Roots, which depicted the atrocities of slavery.

He later won an Emmy Award for the role.

He also appeared in TV movies including The Story of Satchel Paige, Backstairs at the White House, The Josephine Baker Story – for which he won another Golden Globe – and Roots Revisited.

In 2023, he played patriarch, Ol’ Mister Johnson, in the musical remake of The Colour Purple, alongside Halle Bailey, Danielle Brooks and Colman Dolmingo.

FILE - Louis Gossett Jr. attends a Legacy of Changing Lives Gala on March 13, 2018, in Los Angeles. Gossett Jr., the first Black man to win a supporting actor Oscar and an Emmy winner for his role in the seminal TV miniseries ...Roots,... has died. He was 87. (Photo by Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP, File)
Gossett was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2010 and hospitalised with COVID in 2020. Pic: AP

Throughout his career, Gossett was subject to racism, including an incident in the late 1990s, when he said he was pulled over by police while driving his restored 1986 Rolls Royce Corniche II.

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

He later founded the Eracism Foundation to “help create a world where racism does not exist”, according to the foundation’s website.

In the years after his Academy win, Gossett struggled with alcohol and cocaine addiction. He went to rehab, where he was diagnosed with toxic mould syndrome – associated with prolonged exposure to mould which he attributed to his house in Malibu.

Pic: Paramount/Kobal/Shutterstock
Pic: Paramount/Kobal/Shutterstock

In 2010, Gossett announced he had prostate cancer, which he said was caught in the early stages and in 2020, he went into hospital after contracting COVID-19.

The actor married three times, the third to actor Cyndi James-Reese. The pair divorced in 1992.

He is survived by his two sons – Satie, a producer and 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.


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