Louis Gossett Jr., Award-Winning ‘Roots’ Actor, Dead at 87

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - OCTOBER 31: Actor Lou Gossett Jr. portrait session, October 31, 1985 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Bob Riha, Jr./Getty Images)

The legendary actor Louis Gossett Jr., who was only the third Black Oscar nominee for Best Supporting Actor and became the first Black man to take home the award, has died. He was 87.

His family shared the sad news in a statement with the Associated Press, revealing that Gossett died in Santa Monica, California, on the morning of Friday, March 29. A cause of death was not revealed, but he did suffer a series of health complications throughout his life, including addiction, toxic mold syndrome, prostate cancer, and COVID-19.

Gossett starred in the 1977 miniseries Roots, which earned him his first and only Emmy award for Outstanding Lead Actor for a Single Appearance in a Drama or Comedy Series the same year. He played the role of Fiddler in the series based on Alex Haley's 1976 novel Roots: The Saga of an American Family, which dramatized the author's "family line from ancestor Kunta Kinte's enslavement to his descendants' liberation," per IMDb.

In 1983, he earned his Academy Award, along with a Golden Globe, for his role in An Officer and a Gentleman, but before all of that, he was a stage actor. Gossett first took the stage in high school when he was taken off the basketball court as the result of an injury. His English teacher pushed him to audition for Take a Giant Step, and he made his Broadway debut at just 16 years old.

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He went on to attend NYU on both a basketball and drama scholarship and ended up singing and acting on television shows hosted by the likes of Ed Sullivan and Merv Griffin.

It wasn't until 1961 that he headed to Hollywood, where he filmed the adaptation of A Raisin in the Sun, returning in 1968 for NBC’s first made-for-TV movie, Companions in Nightmare.

Both trips left Gossett "face-to-face with racism," as he wrote in his 2010 memoir An Actor and a Gentleman. The first time, he was forced to stay in a cockroach-infested motel—one of the rare places that accepted Black occupants, and the second time,  he had multiple run-ins with the police, one of which left him chained and handcuffed to a tree for hours.

“Though I understood that I had no choice but to put up with this abuse, it was a terrible way to be treated, a humiliating way to feel,” he wrote, according to the publication. “I realized this was happening because I was Black and had been showing off...which, in their view, I had no right to...”

He eventually founded the Eracism Foundation, a nonprofit striving to “remove from existence...the belief that one race, one culture, one people is superior to another.”

Gossett is survived by his sons, Satie and Sharron, and his cousins, Neal and Robert Gossett.

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