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Louis Gossett Jr, the first black man to win an Oscar for supporting actor, has died at the age of 87

Louis Gossett Jr, the first black man to win an Oscar for a supporting role and an Emmy Award winner for his role in the landmark television mini-series "Roots", has died. He was 87 years old.

Gossett's first cousin Neil L. Gossett told The Associated Press that the actor died in Santa Monica, Calif. The family said in a statement that Gossett died Friday morning. A cause of death has not been released.

Gossett's cousin recalled a man who walked with Nelson Mandela and was also a great teller of jokes, a relative who confronted and fought racism with dignity and humor.

"It doesn't matter the awards, it doesn't matter the glitz and glamor, the Rolls-Royces and the big houses in Malibu. It's about the humanity of the people he stood for", his cousin said.

From the AP archives: Louis Gossett Jr. on winning a Hollywood legacy award in 2020. Louis Gossett Jr. the first black man to win an Oscar for a supporting role and an Emmy Award winner for his role in the landmark television mini-series "Roots", has died. He was 87 years old.

Louis Gossett has always viewed his early career as the reverse Cinderella story: success found him at an early age and propelled him forward to an Oscar for An Officer and a Gentleman.

Gossett rose to fame on the small screen as Fiddler in the groundbreaking 1977 mini-series Roots, which was about the atrocities of slavery on television. It starred Ben Vereen, LeVar Burton and John Amos.

Gossett became the third black nominee for an Academy Award in the supporting actor category in 1983. He won for his role as an intimidating Marine instructor in "An Officer and a Gentleman" with Richard Gere and Debra Winger. He won a Golden Globe for the same role.

"Moreover, it was a tremendous affirmation of my position as a black actor", he wrote in 2010 in his memoir, "An Actor and a Gentleman".

He got his first acting job in the Brooklyn High School production of "You Can't Take It With You" when he was suspended from the basketball team due to injury.

"I was hooked - and so was my audience", he wrote in his memoir.

His English teacher advised him to go to Manhattan to audition for the play "Take a Giant Step". He got the part and made his Broadway debut in 1953 at the age of 16.

"I knew too little to be nervous", Gossett wrote. "In hindsight, I should have been scared to death going on stage, but I wasn't".

Gossett attended New York University on a basketball and drama scholarship. He soon began acting and singing in television shows hosted by David Susskind, Ed Sullivan, Red Buttons, Merv Griffin, Jack Paar and Steve Allen.

Gossett befriended James Dean and studied acting with Marilyn Monroe, Martin Landau and Steve McQueen at the Actors Studio branch under Frank Silvera.

In 1959, Gossett received critical acclaim for his role in the Broadway production of A Raisin in the Sun alongside Sidney Poitier, Ruby Dee and Diana Sands.

He became a Broadway star, replacing Billy Daniels in The Golden Boy with Sammy Davis, Jr. in 1964.

Gossett first traveled to Hollywood in 1961 to film the movie version of A Raisin in the Sun. He has bitter memories of that trip: he stayed in a cockroach-infested motel, which was one of the few places where black people were allowed.

In 1968, he returned to Hollywood to star in Nightmare Companions, NBC's first TV movie, which starred Melvyn Douglas, Anne Baxter and Patrick O'Neil.

This time Gossett was booked at the Beverly Hills Hotel, and Universal Studios rented a convertible for him. As he was returning to the hotel to pick up the car, he was stopped by a Los Angeles County Sheriff's officer, who ordered him to turn off the radio and raise the roof of the car before letting him go.

A few minutes later, he was pulled over by eight sheriff's officers who made him lean against the car and open the trunk while they called the rental car agency, then let him go.

"Although I realized I had no choice but to endure this abuse, it was horrible, it was humiliating", Gossett writes in his memoir. "I realized that all of this was happening because I was black and showing off in a fancy car that they thought I had no right to drive".

After dinner at the hotel, he went for a walk and was stopped a block from the hotel by a police officer who told him that he had violated a law prohibiting walking in residential neighborhoods in Beverly Hills after 9:00 p.m. Gossett said he had been chained to a tree and handcuffed for three hours. Two more police officers arrived, and Gossett said he was chained to a tree and handcuffed for three hours. He was eventually released when the earlier police car returned.

"Now I came face to face with racism, and it was a disgusting sight", he wrote. "But it was not going to destroy me".

In the late 1990s, Gossett said, he was pulled over by police on Pacific Coast Highway while driving his restored 1986 Rolls Royce Corniche II. The officer told him he looked like the man they were looking for, but the officer recognized Gossett and drove away.

He founded the Eracism Foundation to help create a world without racism.

Gossett has had recurring roles in such series as "Bonanza", "The Rockford Files", "The Mod Squad", "McCloud" and is remembered for co-starring with Richard Pryor in "The Partridge Family".

In August 1969, Gossett was at a party with members of the band Mamas and the Papas when they were invited to the home of actor Sharon Tate. He first went home to shower and change his clothes. As he was about to leave, news of Tate's murder flashed on TV. She and others had been killed that night by Charles Manson's accomplices.

"There had to be a reason I dodged that bullet", he wrote.

Louis Cameron Gossett was born on May 27, 1936, in the Coney Island neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York, the son of Louis Sr, a porter, and Ellen, a nurse. He later added Jr. to his name to honor his father's memory.

"The Oscar gave me the opportunity to pick good roles in movies like 'Enemy Mine,' 'Sadat' and 'Iron Eagle,'" Gossett said in Dave Karger's 2024 book "50 Oscar Nights".

He said his statue was in storage.

"I'm going to donate it to the library so I don't have to keep track of it", he says in the book. "I need to be free of her".

Gossett has starred in such TV movies as "The Satchel Paige Story", "The Backyard of the White House", "The Josephine Baker Story", for which he won another Golden Globe, and "Roots Revisited".

But, he said, winning an Oscar didn't change the fact that all of his roles were supporting roles.

He played a stubborn patriarch in the 2023 remake of The Color Purple.

After winning the Oscar, Gossett struggled with alcohol and cocaine addiction for several years. He went to rehab, where he was diagnosed with toxic mold syndrome, which he attributed to his Malibu home.

In 2010, Gossett announced that he had prostate cancer, which he said was detected at an early stage. In 2020, he was hospitalized with COVID-19 disease.

He is survived by sons Satie, a producer and director from his second marriage, and Sharron, a chef whom he adopted after seeing a 7-year-old girl on a television program about children in desperate situations. His cousin is actor Robert Gossett.

Gossett's first marriage to Hattie Glascoe was annulled. His second, to Christine Mangosing, ended in divorce in 1975, as did his third, to actor Cindy James-Reese in 1992.

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