Oscar-Winning Roots Actor Louis Gossett Jr. Dead At 87

The world has said goodbye to one of the most respected actors of his generation, Louis Gossett Jr. (via AP). He was 87 years old. At the time of his publication, no cause of death had been revealed, but the actor's nephew confirmed to the Associated Press that he had passed away.

Louis Gossett Jr. was a multiple award-winning actor who rose to fame in 1982's "An Officer and a Gentleman," for which he made history as the first Black person to win an Academy Award in a supporting lead role (via ICE Institute). That role embodied Gossett's commanding yet empathetic presence that he carried with him over the course of his entire 60-year-long, 200-credit career, as seen on IMDb.

A legendary actor and a true gentleman

Gossett Jr.'s life served as a lesson in inspiration. He went from growing up poor in the multiculturalism of Coney Island, per CBS News, dreaming of being a doctor or athlete, to being encouraged by a high school English teacher to pursue acting. In fact, Gossett was invited to the New York Knicks training camp at age 17 but went to Broadway, instead. There, in "A Raisin in the Sun" in 1959, he worked alongside the legendary Sydney Poitier. The play got made into a film in 1961 using the same cast, as Playbill explains, and Gossett watched his career take off. His role as Fiddler in the landmark 1977 mini-series "Roots" won him his first Emmy.

Gossett Jr. was also the founder of the Eracism Foundation, which as the name implies, was devoted to "removing from existence" the notion that "one race is superior to another," as he stated in an interview with Atlanta-based 11 Alive on YouTube, as well protecting the environment and our food chains. 

A gifted youth turned role model for youths

Born Louis Cameron Gossett Jr. in Coney Island, Brooklyn, New York in 1936, Gossett Jr. grew up in a neighborhood of artists and activists, as History Makers states. "We had nothing," he said on CBS News. "That's what we thought we had. And if my parents didn't get home in time, I had a choice: I could have gefilte fish, I could have lasagna, have menudo, corned beef and cabbage — depends on who was home." In the end, Gossett was raised primarily by his great-grandmother, as he says on YouTube, and was a big believer in "the family unit" and its universality amongst all of the world's cultures.

Gossett excelled in many areas of life from a young age. He was class president, acted in school plays, and at 6-foot-4 was personally invited by the New York Knicks to attend their training camp when he was a teenager. In 1952, his first acting foray in Broadway's "Take a Giant Step" won him the Donaldson Award for best newcomer to theater. It wasn't until 1961 and "A Raisin in the Sun," though, as Gossett Jr. stated in an interview with Turner Classic Movies on YouTube, that he firmly committed himself to acting in lieu of all other options. 

Along with fellow legend James Earl Jones, Gossett Jr. got involved in mentoring young adults through the arts in 1964. At a still-young age himself, Gossett Jr. was already a role model.

A proud father, grandfather, and activist

Gossett Jr.'s life was not without its struggles, no matter how fortunate he was in his talents. His self-possession, particularly in late life, came from lessons and missteps that resulted in him going to rehab in 2004, as his 2010 memoir "An Actor and a Gentleman" describes. As Reuters says, Gossett Jr. passed through a period of intense rage at the racism and injustices faced by Black people, which pushed him into a "haze of freebase cocaine, alcohol and a toxic mold that invaded his house and his body." In the end, Gossett Jr. emerged wiser and a believer in the need for unity between all peoples. "Once you put it through a blender, we are one people. We are all equal, and we need one another to survive and save this planet," he said.

In 2020, amidst interviews and attention in his mid-80s, Gossett Jr. remarked on Closer Weekly, "I'm amazed I'm still here and relevant." He worked well into his late life, even garnering an Emmy nomination for his role in 2019's "Watchmen" at the age of 83. He said that he never considered retiring from acting because acting was just a "part of my lifestyle." 

Louis Gossett Jr. was married three times and had two sons, one adopted (Shannon) with his second wife, Cindy James Gossett, and one biological (Satie) with his third wife, Christina Mangosing. He is survived by these children and nine grandchildren.