Louis Gossett Jr. Dies: ‘Roots’, ‘An Officer And A Gentleman’ Actor Was 87

Louis Gossett Jr., who won an Emmy for his role in the groundbreaking TV miniseries Roots and an Oscar for An Officer and a Gentleman, died last night in Santa Monica. He was 87.

His death was reported by his nephew to the Associated Press. No cause of death was given.

The first Black actor to win a Best Supporting Oscar, Gossett was born May 27, 1936, in Brooklyn, New York, Gossett made his stage debut at 17 in a school production of You Can’t Take It with You. He’d soon successfully audition for the Broadway production Take a Giant Step, then perform in a star-making supporting role in the hit A Raisin in the Sun (1959). He’d reprise his Raisin role of George Murchison, the college suitor of the play’s rebellious Beneatha.

Charting duel careers in music and acting, Gossett was a regular at the folk music clubs of New York City in the ’60s while continuing a busy Broadway and Off Broadway career, notably in the long-running Jean Genet’s The Blacks along with James Earl Jones, Roscoe Lee Browne, Cicely Tyson, and others.

Other stage credits from the era include the Broadway play Tambourines to Glory, Golden Boy, The Zulu and the Zayda, and My Sweet Charlie, among others.

Gossett’s TV career began in earnest with late 1960s appearances in such series as The Invaders and Daktari, with early ’70s appearances continuing in Bonanza, Longstreet, The Mod Squad and Good Times.

But his major, signature TV role arrived in 1977 when he played the character Fiddler in the much-praised and hugely influential Roots. He won an Emmy for the performance, cementing a TV career that would continue all but uninterrupted through 2019 when he had a regular role on Watchmen. The latter earned Gossett his 7th Emmy nomination.

On the big screen, Gossett had roles in ’70s fare such as The Landlord, Skin Game, The Deep, The Choirboys and Jaws 3-D, but it was his performance as a tough-as-nails Gunnery Sergeant Emil Foley, opposite Richard Gere’s new recruit Zack Mayo in An Officer and a Gentleman that would stamp his film career as surely as Roots did his TV performances. His performance as the unrelenting drill sergeant won Gossett an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, the first for a Black actor. He also won a Golden Globe for the performance.

Subsequent film roles include performances in the The Punisher (1989), Toy Soldiers (1991), A Gathering of Old Men (1987), Curse of the Starving Class (1994) and numerous others, a steady stream, in fact, right up to 2023’s The Color Purple.

His career in episodic TV was equally prolific, with roles in the 1980s (The Guardian, The Powers of Matthew Star and, in ’88, a reprise as Fiddler in Roots: The Gift), the ’90s (Picket Fences, Touched By An Angel, Ellen and Strange Justice), and the 2000s (The Dead Zone, Lackawanna Blues, Family Guy, ER, Boardwalk Empire, The Good Fight), all among many others.

Gossett was married three times, the first (annulled) in 1964 to Hattie Glascoe, then, from 1973-75 to Christina Mangosing and from 1987-92 to Cyndi James Gossett.

He is survived by sons Satie Gossett and Sharron, and a nephew, the actor Robert Gossett.


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