Louis Gossett Jr., Oscar-winning star of “An Officer and a Gentleman” and “Roots,” dead at 87 — rest in peace

Louis Gossett Jr., the prolific actor whose roles included an Oscar-winning performance in An Officer and a Gentleman and his Emmy-winning performance as Fiddler in the miniseries Roots, has died at 87.

His death was confirmed to AP by his nephew Neal L. Gossett, who said the actor died at his home in Santa Monica, California Friday morning. A cause of death was not given.

Featureflash Photo Agency / Shutterstock.com

“Never mind the awards, never mind the glitz and glamor, the Rolls-Royces and the big houses in Malibu. It’s about the humanity of the people that he stood for,” the cousin told AP of his uncle.

Gossett was born in Coney Island, Brooklyn On May 27, 1936. He began acting in high school, after a sports injury led him to taking an acting class. He ended up starring in his school’s production of You Can’t Take it With You, and later wrote that he became “hooked” on acting.

Gossett found early success on the stage, and made his Broadway debut in 1953. His most major early stage role was in the original production of the classic play A Raisin in the Sun, playing Murchison. The cast also included Sidney Poitier and Ruby Dee.

Photo of a scene from the play A Raisin in the Sun. From left-Louis Gossett (George Murchison), Ruby Dee (Ruth Younger) and Sidney Poitier (Walter Younger). Everyone shown in the photo reprised their roles in the 1961 film. (WIkimedia Commons)

The play was widely critically acclaimed, and Gossett reprised his performance in the lauded 1961 film adaptation.

Gossett continued to act in successful Broadway productions including The Blacks, Tambourines to Glory and The Zulu and the Zayda. He also began appearing in films, including The Landlord, Skin Game and Travels with My Aunt.

One of Gossett’s best-known performances was in the landmark 1977 miniseries Roots, a saga of a family over decades of slavery. “All the top African-American actors were asked, and I begged to be in there,” Gossett once said, according to the Hollywood Reporter. “I got the best role, I think. It was wonderful.”

Louis Gossett Jr holding violin in a scene from the Television Series ‘Roots’, 1977. (Photo by Warner Brothers Television/Getty Images)

Gossett said he was initially “insulted” to be offered a role who seemed to be an “Uncle Tom,” but after research came to respect the character more.

“If it wasn’t for Fiddler, we wouldn’t be in America,” Gossett told Parade. “He was a survivor. He understood both cultures and knew how to maneuver to stay alive and be solvent. We needed that lesson in order to survive here today. Having done Fiddler is a stripe on my uniform now.”

Gossett won an Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor for a Single Appearance in a Drama or Comedy Series for his performance in Roots, which remains one of the most-watched series in television history.

In 1982, Gossett co-starred in the film An Officer and a Gentleman, opposite Richard Gere and Debra Winger. Gossett played Emil Foley, a stern and hard-driving Marine Corps drill sergeant.

He received much acclaim and many accolades for his performance, winning the Golden Globe and Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. Gossett was only the second Black man to win an acting Oscar, after Sidney Poitier, and the first to win for supporting actor.

American Emmy, Golden Globe, and Academy Award winning actor Louis Cameron Gossett, Jr wins the Oscar for Best Actor in a Supporting Role for An Officer and a Gentleman during the 55th Academy Awards. (Photo by Bill Nation/Sygma via Getty Images)

Gossett continued to have a prolific career in Hollywood; after An Officer and a Gentleman he was often cast as imposing military figures. He starred in the miniseries Sadat and won a Golden Globe for playing civil rights activist Sidney Williams in The Josephine Baker Story.

In 2010, Gossett announced that he had been diagnosed with prostate cancer. According to CNN, he went public with his diagnosis “to set an example for the large number of African-American men who are victims of this disease because of the comparatively low emphasis in our community on preventive examinations and early treatment.”

DFree / Shutterstock.com

“I count this diagnosis among the many challenges I have faced in my life and overcome,” Gossett said in a statement at the time. “I expect this to be no different.”

Gossett continued to act long after that diagnosis. He received an Emmy nomination for his role in the HBO miniseries Watchmen, and just last year appeared in the remake of The Color Purple, playing Ol’ Mister.

Rest in peace to the talented actor Louis Gossett Jr., who gave us so many memorable performances across his decades-long career.

Please share this story in memory of Louis Gossett Jr. 💔❤️

Thank you for subscribing!
Something went wrong. Please try again later.

Sign up for our newsletter