How Did Louis Gossett Jr. Die? 'An Officer and a Gentleman' Star Who Became First Black Actor to Win Supporting Actor Oscar Dies Aged 87

Gossett made history as the first African-American to win the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in 1983 for his role in "An Officer and a Gentleman."

Louis Gossett Jr., Oscar-winning actor and groundbreaking star of "Roots," has died at the age of 87. Although the cause of death has not been revealed, Gossett Jr.'s nephew told The Associated Press on Friday that the "Officer and a Gentleman" actor died on Thursday night in Santa Monica, California.

However, the actor revealed in 2010 that he was diagnosed with prostate cancer and was undergoing treatment. Known for his extensive career spanning decades, including notable roles in "The Color Purple" and "Roots," Gossett revealed last year that he opted out of a potential professional basketball career with the New York Knicks to fulfill his dreams of becoming an actor.

Death of a Legend

Louis Gossett Jr
Louis Gossett Jr X

"It is with our heartfelt regret to confirm our beloved father passed away this morning. We would like to thank everyone for their condolences at this time. Please respect the family's privacy during this difficult time," his family said in a statement.

Gossett made history as the first African-American to win the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in 1983 for his role in "An Officer and a Gentleman."

Louis Gossett Jr
Louis Gossett Jr in 'An Officer and a Gentleman' X

He also won an Emmy award for his performance in the 1977 miniseries "Roots."

Hailing from Brooklyn, Gossett boasted an impressive array of acting credits, including acclaimed Broadway appearances in plays such as "A Raisin in the Sun," "Tambourines to Glory," and "The Zulu and the Zayda."

Following his early Broadway success, Gossett rose to prominence on television with his portrayal of Fiddler in the groundbreaking 1977 miniseries "Roots," which depicted the horrors of slavery on television. The expansive ensemble cast featured notable actors such as Ben Vereen, LeVar Burton, and John Amos.

On television, he appeared in various TV series, including "Boardwalk Empire," "The Jeffersons," "Stargate SG-1," "The Young Rebels," "Iron Eagle," "Watchmen," and "The Mod Squad."

Gossett's diverse filmography stretched over five decades which includes roles in films such as "The Color Purple" (1985), "The Punisher" (2004), "The White Dawn" (1974), "Toy Soldiers" (1991), "Enemy Mine" (1985), "The Deep" (1977), and "Skin Game" (1971).

Born to Be a Star

Gossett was born in Coney Island in 1936 and discovered his passion for acting when he starred in his high school's production of "You Can't Take It with You."

Louis Gossett Jr
Louis Gossett Jr X

It was during this time that his English teacher encouraged him to audition for the play "Take a Giant Step," a production in which he secured the lead role at the age of 17 in 1953.

Gossett earned his first acting credit in the production of "You Can't Take It with You" at his Brooklyn high school while sidelined from the basketball team due to an injury.

"I was hooked — and so was my audience," he wrote in his 2010 memoir An Actor And A Gentleman.

Louis Gossett Jr
Louis Gossett Jr in "Roots" X

Gossett then attended New York University, opting not to pursue a basketball scholarship and instead focusing on his passion for theater.

Gossett further honed his acting skills by studying under teacher Frank Silvera at the renowned Actors Studio, where he became friends with Hollywood luminaries such as James Dean, Marilyn Monroe, Martin Landau, and Steve McQueen.

In 1961, forayed into Hollywood with a role in the film adaptation of "A Raisin in the Sun," starring alongside Sidney Poitier, Ruby Dee, Claudia McNeil, Diana Sands, and Roy Glenn.

"Roots," released in 1977 on ABC, shattered numerous barriers upon its debut, becoming a landmark moment in television history.

Gossett grappled with a string of health challenges throughout his lifetime. Following his Oscar win, he battled alcohol and cocaine addictions. He also contracted COVID-19 in 2020.

During his rehabilitation period, he was diagnosed with toxic mold syndrome, an ailment believed to have originated from living in his home in Malibu.

In 2010, Gossett revealed that he had been diagnosed with prostate cancer, fortunately caught in its early stages.

Louis Gossett Jr
Louis Gossett Jr X

He also ventured into the music realm, co-writing the peace song "Handsome Johnny" for folk singer Richie Havens' debut album, "Mixed Bag," in 1966.

Gossett was also a vocal advocate against racism, founding the Eracism Foundation in 2006.

The Eracism Foundation, founded by Gossett, aimed to eradicate all forms of racism through the implementation of programs fostering cultural diversity, historical enrichment, and education.

Gossett is survived by his sons Satie and Sharron. He was previously married to Hattie Glascoe, although their marriage was annulled in 1968.

Gossett married Christina Mangosing, with whom he later divorced in 1975. His third marriage was to Cyndi James-Reese, which ended in separation in 1992.