Louis Gossett Jr., Oscar-winner and groundbreaking actor, passes away at 87

Gossett, who portrayed iconic film and television roles, left a lasting mark on Hollywood.

Louis Gossett Jr., Oscar-winner and groundbreaking actor, passes away at 87

Louis Gossett Jr., the esteemed actor who broke barriers as the first Black man to win the Oscar for best-supporting actor, has died at age 87, his family announced Friday.

“It is with our heartfelt regret to confirm our beloved father passed away this morning,” read the family’s statement. “We would like to thank everyone for their condolences at this time. Please respect the family’s privacy during this difficult time.”

Gossett left an indelible mark on Hollywood over his six-decade acting career. He brought iconic roles to life across film, television, and stage – from the defiant George Munchison in the groundbreaking “A Raisin in the Sun” to the uncompromising Gunnery Sgt. Emil Foley in the hit 1982 drama “An Officer and a Gentleman.”

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)

It was Foley, that steely drill instructor tormenting his officer candidates, that earned Gossett his historic Oscar in 1983. He was just the second Black actor, after Sidney Poitier, to claim one of the Academy’s highest honors for his nuanced, hard-nosed yet deeply feeling performance.

“Lou Gossett Jr. does such a fine job of fine-tuning the line between his professional standards and his personal emotions that the performance deserves its Academy Award,” raved critic Roger Ebert at the time.

Born in Brooklyn in 1936, Gossett first caught the acting bug after an injury sidelined his athletic aspirations. Encouraged by a high school teacher, he landed his Broadway debut at just 17 in the play “Take a Giant Step.”

A string of stage and small screen roles followed until his big break in the original Broadway production and film version of the seminal “A Raisin in the Sun” in the early 1960s. His star continued ascending with an Emmy-winning turn as Fiddler in the landmark 1977 miniseries “Roots.”

Even late in his career, Gossett commanded the screen, delivering a memorable performance as an aging superhero in HBO’s “Watchmen” series in 2019 at age 83.

While Foley solidified his place in Hollywood lore, Gossett’s true legacy extends well beyond that iconic drill sergeant role. He kicked open doors for generations of Black actors, embodying charismatic talent and hard-earned respect across an incredible body of work.