Louis Gossett Jr., Oscar winner ‘An Officer and a Gentleman’, dies at 87

By | March 29, 2024

Louis Gosset Jr., who won a supporting actor Oscar for playing the tough-as-nails drill instructor in 1982’s “An Officer and a gentlemanA few years after winning an Emmy for his role as the devious Fiddler in “Roots,” he has died, the AP reports. He was 87.

In Taylor Hackford’s “An Officer and a Gentleman,” Gossetts plays Sgt. Emil Foley memorably drove Richard Gere’s character to the point of collapse at a Navy flight school. Gossett was the first black man to win the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for that role.

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In addition to “An Officer and a Gentleman,” Gossett is best known for the films “Enemy Mine” (1985), in which he played an alien forced to come to terms with his human enemy when he and an astronaut played Dennis Quaid being stranded on a planet, and “Iron Eagle” (1986), in which he played an Air Force veteran who helps a young pilot find his father, who has been shot down and captured.

After his Emmy win for “Roots” in 1978, Gossett received six more Emmy nominations over the years. He was nominated for playing the Egyptian president who made peace with Israel in the 1983 TV movie “Sadat.” He was also nominated for his performance in the 1978 variety special “The Sentry Collection Presents Ben Vereen: His Roots”; for playing Levi Mercer in the 1979 NBC miniseries “Backstairs at the White House”; for Lead Actor in a Drama Series for “Palmerstown, USA” in 1981; for Lead Actor in a Miniseries or Special for the Volker Schlondorff-directed “A Gathering of Old Men” (1987), in which he starred with Richard Widmark and Holly Hunter; and for multiple appearances as Anderson Walker in CBS’ “Touched by an Angel” in 1997.

Gossett, still hardworking in his late 70s, memorably guested on HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire” in 2013, playing a mentor to Michael Kenneth Williams’ Chalky, who meets Chalky again while on the run.

He also recently appeared in CBS’ Halle Berry sci-fi thriller “Extant” as Quinn and has appeared in series such as “Madam Secretary” (2014), “Psych” (2012) and “ER” (2009) and also in IFC’s miniseries parody “The Spoils Before Dying” (2015).

After first gaining widespread attention for his work on the historical miniseries “Roots,” Gossett starred in another miniseries about slavery, BET’s “The Book of Negroes” in 2015.

Requested by Variety in 2015 which of his roles was his favorite, Gossett replied: “Anwar Sadat. It was a challenge to play someone with such a history. His mind was much like Mandela’s. He turned from a hawk into a dove. He had lost his brother and the people he loved. He said he would be willing to enter Israel in the name of peace. Mandela was prepared to leave prison with a smile on his face.”

Louis Cameron Gossett Jr. was born in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn. He made his stage debut at age 17 in a school production of “You Can’t Take It With You”; a sports injury had prompted him to take an acting class. He also battled polio while growing up. He was offered an athletic scholarship, but attended NYU at his own expense, where the tall young man could have played varsity basketball, which he declined to do in favor of theatrical pursuits.

Gossett had already made his Broadway debut in 1953, despite having no formal training as an actor, replacing Bill Gunn as Spencer Scott in “Take a Giant Step,” which was voted a of the ten best shows of the 1950s. year. He got his first mention Variety for his work in the play.

Other Broadway credits include the classic 1959-60 original production of “A Raisin in the Sun,” in which he played George Murchison, the wealthy and educated friend of the younger family daughter Beneatha; George, who denies his African heritage, represents the fully assimilated black man. Gossett made his big-screen debut when he reprized the role for the 1961 film version of “A Raisin in the Sun.” (Previously, he had a smaller role in the original comedy “The Desk Set,” which, fortunately, was also a big hit.)

In 1963, he appeared at the Rialto in the Langston Hughes adaptation “Tambourines to Glory,” and was a replacement in the controversial hit musical “Golden Boy” with Sammy Davis Jr. in the lead role, in which Gossett played Mephistophlean boxing promoter Eddie Satin. He was also one of the stars of the original musical ‘The Zulu and the Zayda’, about a Jew and a black man who bridge the racial divide in Johannesburg.

In 1968, Gossett starred with Diane Ladd in the Sidney Poitier-directed play ‘Carry Me Back to Morningside Heights’, and the actor played assassinated African leader Patrice Lumumba in the play ‘Murderous Angels’ in 1971.

Decades later, in 2002, Gossett returned to Broadway to serve as a replacement in the lead role of Billy Flynn in the musical “Chicago.”

As one of the program’s executive producers, Gossett shared a Daytime Emmy for Outstanding Children’s Special for 1997’s “In His Father’s Shoes,” for which he was also nominated for Outstanding Performer in a Children’s Special. He played a cancer-stricken man who shares a magical experience with his son.

He also shared a nomination for Outstanding Class Special for the 2002 Salt Lake Paralympic Winter Games Opening Ceremony, for which he served as narrator.

Later in his career, Gossett continued to take roles in television and film. He had a seven-episode arc in the critically acclaimed HBO miniseries “Watchmen” and had a starring role in the 2020 religious drama “The Reason.” He also appeared in the 2023 remake of “The Color Purple.”

Gossett was married three times. His first marriage, in 1964, to Hattie Glascoe was annulled. He was married to Christina Mangosing (from 1973-75 and had one child) and to actress Cyndi James Gossett (1987-92). Both marriages ended in divorce.

Survivors include a son, producer Satie Gossett, of Mangosing; an adopted son, Sharron, with Cyndi James Gossett; and a cousin, actor Robert Gossett.

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