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In His Last PEOPLE Interview, Louis Gossett Jr. Said He Thought Heaven 'Was Going to Be a Great Time' (Exclusive)

Academy Award-winner Louis Gossett Jr. died Thursday at age 87

<p>David Crotty/Patrick McMullan via Getty</p> Louis Gossett Jr. on Nov. 6, 2016

David Crotty/Patrick McMullan via Getty

Louis Gossett Jr. on Nov. 6, 2016

In his final interview with PEOPLE, Louis Gossett Jr. shared his thoughts death, just months before the Academy Award winner died at 87.

"I’m not afraid to die and the fact of going to heaven," the actor said in his last interview with PEOPLE, conducted in January. "I know they are having some great concerts up there."

"I know that and my heroes and heroines are up there and I think it's different from what we think it is and the old days," he added. "I think after we make that transition, I think it's going to be a great time."

Gossett Jr.'s family confirmed his death in a statement obtained by PEOPLE Friday, after the Associated Press first reported the news. No cause of death for Gossett Jr., who was the first Black performer to win the Best Supporting Actor Oscar, has yet been determined.

Related: Louis Gossett Jr. Almost Played for the Knicks Years Before His History-Making Oscar Win

<p>Bob Riha Jr/WireImage</p> Louis Gossett Jr. circa 1985

Bob Riha Jr/WireImage

Louis Gossett Jr. circa 1985

Gossett Jr., a New York City native, began acting for the stage in 1950s Broadway shows like Take a Giant Step, The Desk Set and A Raisin in the Sun before his big screen debut in the 1961 film adaptation of the latter production. The Raisin in the Sun film adaptation released two years after the original Lorraine Hansberry play premiered on Broadway; Gossett Jr. acted alongside the legendary Sidney Poitier in both the stage play and the film.

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From there, Gossett Jr. embarked on an acting career that lasted more than six decades. IMDb credits the actor with 200+ roles to his name and 12 projects that were still in the works prior to his death. Gossett Jr. won his Oscar for playing drill instructor Gunnery Sergeant Emil Foley in 1982's An Officer and a Gentleman, but he was also know for his role in the 1977 television miniseries Roots, among other projects.

He most recently appeared in 2023's The Color Purple movie musical, as well as in two episodes of the BET+ series Kingdom Business.

Related: Paying Tribute to the Celebrities Who Have Died in 2024

<p>ABC Photo Archives/Disney General Entertainment Content via Getty </p> Louis Gossett Jr. in a 1977 episode of Roots

ABC Photo Archives/Disney General Entertainment Content via Getty

Louis Gossett Jr. in a 1977 episode of Roots

"Sometimes I look cantankerous because I can't get up and then do this or that. There's those exercises I used to do, can't walk that mile the way I used to," Gossett Jr. told PEOPLE in January, when asked about life in his 80s. "So your mind is just like a car, you shift out from the fifth gear down to the fourth gear. You take the messages. Now that I'm this age, you do things a different way."

"You take all of it, the subtle stresses, you put it out the window, you face it down to the place where you can handle things and you let go and let God take care of the rest," he added. "I'm not afraid to die, but I'm still here. God must have something left for me to do. I'm in peace today."

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