Louis Gossett Jr., Who Made History With an Oscar Win, Dies at 87

Rob Latour/Getty
Rob Latour/Getty

Groundbreaking actor Louis Gossett Jr., who became the first Black man to win an Oscar for best supporting actor, has died at 87.

No cause of death was given, though Gossett did say publicly in 2010 that he had prostate cancer. A statement from his family said he died Friday morning, while Gossett’s cousin, Neal L. Gossett, told the Associated Press that the actor passed away in Santa Monica, California.

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

Gossett won his Academy Award for An Officer and a Gentleman (1982) in which he played the intimidating Marine drill instructor Gunnery Sgt. Emil Foley. His win made him just the second Black man to win an Oscar for acting after Sidney Poitier’s award for best actor in 1964. Gossett also won a Golden Globe for the role.

“More than anything, it was a huge affirmation of my position as a Black actor,” he later wrote in his memoir, An Actor and a Gentleman.

He’d earlier gained national recognition in the 1977 miniseries Roots. Gossett played Fiddler, who helps to teach Kunta Kinte English. His performance scooped him his first Emmy Award—he’d go on to be nominated another six times, most recently for his role in the HBO series Watchmen. Gossett was also nominated for a Screen Actors Guild Award last year for the remake of The Color Purple.

In 2006, Gossett founded the Eracism Foundation, a nonprofit working toward “the creation of a society where racism does not exist.”

Gossett announced in 2010 that he had been diagnosed with prostate cancer, saying he was revealing his illness publicly “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 preventative examinations and early treatment.” He was also hospitalized in 2020 with COVID-19.

Gossett is survived by his two sons.

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