Louis Gossett Jr., Groundbreaking Oscar Winner, Dead At 87

Groundbreaking actor Louis Gossett Jr. has died, AP News confirms. He was 87 years old. A family member confirmed the news to the outlet, however no cause of death was given at the time of this writing.

As a well-respected actor with a diverse array of characters under his belt, Gossett was easily one of the most admired stars of his time. Best known for his performances in the TV series "Roots" and the movies "Enemy Mine," "Iron Eagle," and "An Officer and a Gentleman," Gossett also found ways to make an impact beyond breaking barriers in Hollywood. In 1964, he started a theater group with James Earl Jones and Paul Sorvino for troubled kids, as noted by The History Makers. In 2006, he founded the Eracism Foundation, a nonprofit organization working to eradicate racism, per TV Guide. But how did Gossett get to a position where he could make positive change?

Interestingly, Gossett's breakthrough into theater was happenstance. According to Britannica, he grew up in Brooklyn, New York, and set his sights on sports in high school. When he suffered from an injury, however, he couldn't play basketball for a season and his theater teacher persuaded him to audition for a play. The play, called "Take a Giant Step," followed the story of a young Black man "emerging into a bewildering adult world," as described by Concord Theatricals. Gossett landed the role, and thus made his Broadway debut in 1953 as a teenager, via IBDB, earning a Donaldson Award for best newcomer of the year for his performance. Suddenly, it seemed as though there were nothing that Gossett couldn't accomplish.

Louis Gossett Jr.'s Broadway and film career

With every new role that he played, Louis Gossett Jr. wowed the worlds of theater and film. He graduated from high school in 1954 and received both a basketball and drama scholarship from New York University, per Britannica. His next Broadway appearance was in "The Desk Set" in 1955, and in 1959, after graduating from college, Gossett became part of the original cast for "A Raisin in the Sun," via IBDB. He then performed in "Tambourines to Glory," "Golden Boy," and "The Zulu and the Zayda."

At the same time, Gossett earned small roles in TV series such as "The Big Story" and "The Doctors and the Nurses." He reprised his role for the film adaptation of "A Raisin in the Sun" in 1961, though he noted in an interview with the Television Academy Foundation that the film "wasn't as important as the play." He explained, "The relevant pieces of 'A Raisin in the Sun' had to be sand-papered down for the benefit of a non-Black audience."

Despite the story being watered down, Gossett and the cast earned tremendous acclaim for their performances, and Gossett continued to earn more opportunities in Hollywood. In 1970, he co-starred in the series "The Young Rebels," though the show didn't last very long. He appeared in many minor TV shows and films, including the movie "Travels with my Aunt" in 1972, and his 1977 performance in the miniseries "Roots" won him an Emmy Award, via IMDb. Gossett also did quite a bit of voice work, such as in an episode of the TV series based on the Disney classic "Hercules," the video game "Half-Life 2," and the show "The Batman."

Louis Gossett Jr.'s later career

Throughout the late 1970s and 1980s, Louis Gossett Jr. kept himself busy with back-to-back projects. He held a recurring role in the TV mini-series "Backstairs at the White House" in 1979 and the series "The Lazarus Syndrome" in the same year, per IMDb. In 1982, he played Sgt. Emil Foley in "An Officer and a Gentleman," a performance which made him the first Black man to win an Oscar for best supporting actor, as noted by Britannica.

Though Gossett's Oscar win did not skyrocket him to superstardom, it did secure his reputation as a serious, talented actor. In 1983, he played the real-life former President of Egypt, Anwar al-Sadat, in the TV mini-series "Sadat." As Louis explained to the Television Academy Foundation, Sadat had enjoyed the show "Roots," particularly Gossett's character Fiddler, and wanted Louis to play him in "Sadat." Louis found this role important because it challenged him in new ways. "For the first time I had to do some soul research," he said. "Of how would a man feel, being responsible for turning himself around from a hawk to a dove."

Gossett's more recent successes drew buzz as well. His 1991 performance for HBO's "The Josephine Baker Story" won him a Golden Globe Award, via The History Makers. His other notable credits include the movie "Lackawanna Blues" in 2005, "Madam Secretary" in 2014, and "Watchmen" in 2019.

Louis Gossett Jr.'s personal life

According to Britannica, Gossett married Hattie Glascoe in 1964. Not much is known about his marriage, and the two eventually got divorced. In 1973, Gossett married Christina Mangosing. The couple had one child together, a son named Satie, before they got divorced in 1975 (via Amo Mama).

Gossett then married American soap opera actor Cyndi Reese, who was best known for her role on "Days of Our Lives." Gossett and Reese adopted a son together named Sharron Anthony after Louis met the 9-year-old at a shelter in St. Louis. In an interview on ABC's "Good Morning America," Louis recalled the feeling of having a complete family. ”I had an Oscar and I had an Emmy,” he said (via the Chicago Tribune). ”I had all the trappings of success, but something was missing. My family was missing and family is more important to me than $10 billion. My heart is fuller now that I have that young boy. I also have a woman I'm in love with. Now I have my family."

Gossett and Rese divorced in 1992. Still, Louis seemed ultimately fulfilled with his life. When asked how he would like to be remembered in his interview with the Television Academy Foundation, he responded, "To be remembered as Louis Gossett Jr., who can be Superman too."