Academy Award Winner Louis Gossett Jr. Dies at 87 | Playbill

Obituaries Academy Award Winner Louis Gossett Jr. Dies at 87

Mr. Gossett was the first Black actor to win the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.

Academy Award winner Louis Gossett, Jr. died March 28 at the age of 87. 

The Coney Island-born son of a nurse and porter, Mr. Gossett got his start on Broadway before graduating high school. Starring in Take a Giant Step at 17, he enjoyed a robust stage career throughout the mid-century, appearing on Broadway in the original Main Stem productions of The Desk Set, A Raisin in the Sun, Tambourines to Glory, Golden Boy, The Zulu and the Zayda, My Sweet Charlie, Carry Me Back to Morningside Heights, and Murderous Angels.

In 1961, Mr. Gossett reprised his role as George Murchison in the film adaptation of A Raisin in the Sun, making his screen debut as the holier-than-thou man who denies his African heritage. That same year, he starred Off-Broadway in Jean Genet's The Blacks, which became the longest-running Off-Broadway play of the decade, running 1,408 performances. Starring alongside James Earl Jones, Roscoe Lee Browne, Cicely Tyson, Godfrey Cambridge, Maya Angelou, and Charles Gordone, it did not take long for their collective star power to rub off on Mr. Gossett.

Throughout the 1970's, Mr. Gossett would attain prominence on screen, including George Cukor's Travels with My Aunt, Stuart Rosenberg's The Laughing Policeman, and Philip Kaufman's The White Dawn. However, it was 1977's Roots that catapulted Mr. Gossett to international stardom.

Mr. Gossett played Fiddler in the TV miniseries, earning an Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Single Appearance in a Drama or Comedy Series. Although he was initially insulted upon being asked to play a submissive "Uncle Tom" character, he "came to appreciate Fiddler as a survivor doing what he found necessary under the plantation regime."

Later that same year, Mr. Gossett acted in Robert Aldrich's The Choirboys and Peter Yates' The Deep. Yates' film, an underwater thriller, saw Mr. Gossett as the lead villain, catapulting the film to the eighth-highest-grossing position of the year in the United States and Canada. Overseas, the film became Columbia's highest-grossing film of the year.

The late 1970's were then filled to the brim with Emmy nominations for Mr. Gossett, picking up nominations for his performances in The Sentry Collection Presents Ben Vereen: His RootsBackstairs at the White House, and Palmerstown, U.S.A.

By 1982, Mr. Gossett was primed to make history. As drill instructor Gunnery Sergeant Emil Foley in Taylor Hackford's An Officer and a Gentleman, Mr. Gossett won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, making him the first Black male to win an Oscar in a supporting role, the second Black male to win for acting, and the third Black actor to win overall. The performance was widely honored, with Mr. Gossett also winning the Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor at the Golden Globe Awards and the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Actor in a Motion Picture at the NAACP Image Awards.

He continued to garner acclaim on screen throughout the latter quarter of the 20th century, bringing in additional Emmy and Golden Globe nominations for his performance in Sadat, a two-part miniseries which chronicled the life and assassination of former Egypt president Anwar Sadat; with sixth and seventh Emmy nominations for Volker Schlöndorff's A Gathering of Old Men and Touched by an Angel; and an additional Golden Globe win for the TV film The Josephine Baker Story.

Mr. Gossett also found the time to venture further into popular cinema, starring in The Punisher opposite Dolph Lundgren, and with Dennis Quaid in Enemy Mine. He returned to Broadway in 2002, playing Billy Flynn in Chicago for a special four-performance run.

In recent years, Mr. Gossett turned much of his focus to voice acting, providing narration for the acclaimed video game Half-Life 2, the audio bible The Word of Promise, the audio book for Twelve Years a Slave, and the Disney Candlelight Processional. In 2019, he received his final Emmy nomination for his performance in the series Watchmen.

Mr. Gossett's final performance was in the newest film adaptation of The Color Purple, where he played Ol' Mister in the musical film. Only a few months ago, Mr. Gossett proudly declared that he had no plans to retire, telling People Magazine that “God must have something left for me to do."

Mr. Gossett is survived by his two sons, Satie and Sharron. Information on a public memorial is forthcoming.

Look Back on A Raisin in the Sun on Broadway

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