Louis Cameron Gossett Jr., one of the most commanding American actors in television and film, as well as a producer, director, and social activist, was born on May 27, 1936, in Brooklyn, New York, the only child to Louis Cameron Gossett Sr. and Hellen Rebecca Wray.
A product of public education, Gossett attended the Mark Twain Junior High School and during his junior year, in 1953 at Abraham Lincoln High School in Brooklyn, at 16, he was one of 400 teenagers who auditioned for the Broadway play Take a Giant Step. He received a role in that play, and he also performed in his high school’s production of the play You Can’t Take It with You.
Gossett graduated from Lincoln High in 1954 and received a basketball scholarship at New York University. Four years later, in 1958, at 6’ 4,” he was drafted by the New York Knickerbockers. He chose acting over athletics, and in 1959 playwright Lorraine Hansberry personally called him to play George Murchinson in her Raisin in the Sun at Broadway’s Ethel Barrymore Theatre. Two years later in 1961, he was in the film version of Hansberry’s work. However, this time his role was the protagonist Walter Lee Younger.
In 1978, Gossett won a Primetime Emmy Award for his outstanding role as the character Fiddler, an elderly enslaved man in Alex Haley’s Roots. This Emmy came in addition to six other Emmy nominations during his career. In 1982, Gossett won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his role as Gunnery Sergent Emil Foley, a Marine drill instructor in the film An Officer and a Gentleman. He was the first Black man to win a Supporting Actor Oscar and only the third following Hattie McDaniel and Sidney Poitier to win an Academy Award for acting.
One year later, Gossett played the title role in Sadat, which chronicled the life of Egypt’s President Muhammad Anwar al-Sadat to his assassination. However, the film was later banned in Egypt because of numerous objections, including selecting a Black American for the role. In 2005, Gossett created the Eracism Foundation in Malibu, California, a nonprofit public benefit organization, established to challenge systematic cultural and racial superiority across the United States. The following year, Baton Rouge Community College in Louisiana awarded him an Honorary Doctorate.
In 2010, Gossett penned an LA Times best-selling book, An Actor and a Gentleman, about his artistic career on stage and in film and the racism he had encountered in the industry.
Gossett played the busybody father Albert “Mister” Johnson in the 2023 musical adaptation of Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. That would be his last major role.
Married three times, Gossett Jr. was the father of Satie Gossett and Sharron Gossett.
A thespian who accumulated more than 200 screen roles, Louis Gossett Jr. died on March 29, 2024, at a rehabilitation center in Santa Monica, California. He was 87.
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Andrew Lawrence, “Louis Gossett Jr: the king of Hollywood’s strong, silent types, from Roots to The Color Purple,” The Guardian.com, https://www.theguardian.com/film/2024/mar/29/louis-gossett-jr-movies-roots-color-purple; Judith Miller, “Upset by Sadat, Egypt Bars Columbia Films,” https://www.nytimes.com/1984/02/02/movies/upset-by-sadat-egypt-bars-columbia-films.html; “Louis Gossett Jr., 87, Dies; ‘An Officer and a Gentleman’ and ‘Roots’ Actor, New York Times, https://www.nytimes.com/2024/03/29/movies/louis-gossett-jr-dead.html.
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