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‘Roots’ actor Louis Gossett Jr. dies at 87

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Louis Gossett Jr., who made history as the first Black man to win a Best Supporting Actor Oscar, has died. He was 87.

His nephew confirmed to The Associated Press that the groundbreaking actor passed away Thursday night in Santa Monica, California. A cause of death was not yet given.

Gossett, a Brooklyn native, unintentionally got his acting start while a student at Abraham Lincoln High School. Following a sports injury, he was forced to take a break from basketball and enrolled in an acting class that successfully led to his stage debut in the school’s production of You Can’t Take It With You. His performance impressed scouts, as well as a teacher who encouraged him to try out for Broadway’s Take a Giant Step.

He later landed the role and earned the Donaldson Award for best newcomer to theater.

Gossett continued acting, using his earnings to support his family, and eventually attended NYU on a drama and basketball scholarship. He turned down an offer to play on the varsity team, as well as an opportunity to play with the New York Knicks’ rookie camp. Instead he accepted the role of George Murchison in the 1959 Broadway premiere of A Raisin in the Sun, which also featured late acting legend Sidney Poitier. He later appeared in the film adaptation, marking his movie debut.

Gossett’s career went on with a slew of off-Broadway and Broadway plays, films and televisions shows, including The Landlord (1970), The Young Rebels and George Cukor’s Travels with My Aunt (1972). In 1977 he secured one of his most well-known roles to date: Fiddler in the 1977 ABC miniseries Roots, a role he reprised in the 1998 movie Roots: The Gift.

His performance on the television show was rewarded with the Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor for a Single Appearance in a Drama or Comedy Series — one of many awards the actor snagged throughout the years.

Gossett also won an Oscar for his role in An Officer and a Gentleman, making history as the first African American man to take home the award for Best Supporting Actor. His portrayal of Gunnery Sgt. Emil Foley in the film also earned him a Golden Globe.

In the following years, Gossett made appearances in The Josephine Baker Story, for which he won a Golden Globe; the miniseries Return to Lonesome Dove; the movie Lackawanna Blues; the Regina King-led series Watchmen; Boardwalk Empire; and The Batman. Most recently he appeared in the 2023 remake of The Color Purple.

His contributions to Hollywood were honored in 1992 with a star on the Walk of Fame.

While Gossett made a name for himself in the acting world, he spent much of his time fighting against racism, violence and social apathy via his Eracism Foundation, which he founded in 2006. Programs within the nonprofit provided young adults with lessons on cultural diversity, historical enrichment and more.

He also briefly dabbled in the literary world, releasing his autobiography, An Actor and a Gentleman, in 2010.

Gossett survived prostate cancer following his 2010 diagnosis and a bout of COVID-19 in December 2020. He leaves behind sons Satie Gossett and Sharron Gossett, as well as grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

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