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Actor Louis Gossett Jr remembered as ‘one of the best to ever do it’

The American actor became the first black man to win a supporting actor Oscar after he secured the gong for his role in An Officer And A Gentleman.

The American actor’s last role was in the 2023 remake of The Color Purple (Amy Sussman/Invision/AP)
Louis Gossett Jr The American actor’s last role was in the 2023 remake of The Color Purple (Amy Sussman/Invision/AP) (Amy Sussman/Amy Sussman/Invision/AP)

Director Taylor Hackford and actors Richard Gere and LeVar Burton are among those who have remembered Oscar-winning actor Louis Gossett Jr as “one of the best to ever do it” following his death aged 87.

The American actor’s death was confirmed to the AP news agency by his first cousin Neal L Gossett who said he had died in Santa Monica, California. A statement from the family said he had died on Friday morning.

Gossett Jr became the first black man to win a supporting actor Oscar after he secured the gong for his role in An Officer And A Gentleman, where he starred opposite Richard Gere and Debra Winger.

Louis Gossett Jr with his Oscar for best supporting actor for his role in An Officer And A Gentleman (AP)
Obit Louis Gossett Jr. Louis Gossett Jr with his Oscar for best supporting actor for his role in An Officer And A Gentleman (AP) (AP)

Gere described his former co-star Gossett Jr as a “sweetheart” and recalled how he took his job “very seriously”.

The Pretty Woman star added: “He did his research. He stayed in character the whole time … I don’t think we ever saw him socially.

“He was the drill sergeant 24-hours-a-day, and it showed clearly in his performance. He drove every scene he was in.

“A tough guy with a heart of gold. We were all so proud of him when he won his Oscar. Condolences to his family.”

US filmmaker Hackford, who directed the 1982 romantic drama, recalled hiring Gossett Jr “on the spot” as he paid tribute to the late actor.

He explained that his role of Master Sergeant Foley was originally written as a white man, but he changed the casting profile after visiting the Navy Officers Flight Training Centre in Florida and discovered that many of the drill instructors were black men.

Hackford added: “Lou Gossett came to see me – I knew and admired his stage work. He told me that he’d served in the US army as a ranger, so in addition to being an accomplished actor, he knew military life – I hired him on the spot.

“Lou Gossett’s Sergeant Foley may have been the first black character in American cinema to have absolute authority over white characters.

“The Academy recognised his consummate performance by voting him an Oscar for best supporting actor. He definitely deserved it.”

Gossett Jr also won an Emmy for his role in the 1977 US series Roots, which depicted the horrors of slavery, as the musician Fiddler.

His Roots co-star Burton shared a photo of the pair on social media as he hailed him as “one of the best to ever do it”.

“Thank you, Lou … for everything!” he added.

Gossett Jr’s last role was in the 2023 remake of The Color Purple, which is a reimagining of Alice Walker’s 1982 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of the same name.

The actor played Ol’ Mister Johnson, who is father of Albert “Mister” Johnson, portrayed by Colman Domingo, and father-in-law to the main character Celie Harris, played by Fantasia Barrino.

Domingo posted a photo of him with Gossett Jr on set to Instagram as he praised his late co-star as “a true legend”.

“We lost a true great. A true legend. What an honour to have been able to give him his flowers on his last day of his final film The Color Purple where he played my father”, he wrote.

“Fantasia sang it best… He ran his race for us. We are forever indebted. May we stand firmly on his shoulders. Lift him up today. RIP.”

Barrino also described Gossett Jr as “an awesome man” and said she would never forget the stories he told.

“You left behind so many tokens for us and paved the way for black actors and actresses. You will be missed, but man did you live a blessed life”, she added.

The new film was produced by Oprah Winfrey and Steven Spielberg, who starred and directed the 1985 version, respectively, as well as Scott Sanders and Quincy Jones.

Gossett Jr also appeared in TV movies including The Story Of Satchel Paige, Backstairs At The White House, The Josephine Baker Story, for which he won a Golden Globe, and Roots Revisited.

He was also known for the 2019 show of superhero drama Watchmen, where he played Hooded Justice/Will Reeves, and series Sadat, where he played the former president of Egypt, Anwar Sadat.