Louis Gossett Jr., who made history as the first Black man to win the Oscar for Best Actor in a Supporting Role, died on Friday in Santa Monica, California. He was 87.

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

Born on May 27, 1936, in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, Gossett made his Broadway debut while still in high school. At the behest of his drama teacher, he auditioned and won the lead role in Louis S. Peterson's play Take a Giant Step. (The New York Times reviewed his performance as "manly and boyish at the same time, wild and disciplined, cruel and pitying.")

"I was hooked — and so was my audience," he wrote in his 2010 memoir, An Actor and a Gentleman. "I knew too little to be nervous. In retrospect, I should have been scared to death as I walked onto that stage, but I wasn't."

He studied drama at New York University while on a basketball scholarship, and later originated the role of George Murchison in Lorraine Hansberry's landmark 1959 play A Raisin in the Sun. In 1961, he made his film debut reprising the role in Daniel Petrie's film adaptation opposite Diana Sands, Ruby Dee and Sidney Poitier.

Richard Gere and Louis Gossett Jr. in 1982's 'An Officer and a Gentleman.'

The '70s saw Gossett working with filmmakers like Hal Ashby (1970's The Landlord), George Cukor (1972's Travels with My Aunt), and Peter Yates (1977's The Deep), before landing his Emmy-winning role in the blockbuster television miniseries, Roots. Gossett starred as Fiddler, the mentor of Kunta Kinte (LeVar Burton), for which he won Outstanding Lead Actor for a Single Appearance in a Drama or Comedy Series in 1977.

In 1982, director Taylor Hackford cast the actor opposite Richard Gere in the drama, An Officer and a Gentleman. Gossett played Marine Corps Gunnery Sgt. Emil Foley, the imposing drill instructor tasked with training Gere's young Naval aviation recruit. At the 55th Oscars, he won for Best Actor in a Supporting Role.

"You know when you prepare a speech it's no use, cause it's all gone," he said onstage at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. "But there are some special people I would like to share this with, specifically tomorrow is the seventeenth anniversary of my relationship with my one agent, Mr. Ed Bondy. They say marriages don't last. I've got a spirit that guides me, starting with my great-grandmother who died at the age of 117, and my mom and dad who I know are watching, and my cousin Yvonne. Thank you, you make everything fall into place. And all you other four guys, this is ours. Thank you."

He was the third Black actor to win an Oscar, after Hattie McDaniel for Gone With the Wind and Sidney Poitier for Lilies of the Field. He was the first to win Best Actor in a Supporting Role. In his memoir, he wrote, "More than anything, it was a huge affirmation of my position as a Black actor."


Gossett's career spanned more than six decades, on the screen and the stage. In recent years, he appeared as Will Reeves in Damon Lindelof's Watchmen, for which he was Emmy-nominated for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Limited Series or Movie. (It was his eighth career Emmy Award nomination.) One of his final film roles was in last year's The Color Purple movie musical as Ol' Mister Johnson, the father of Colman Domingo's Mister.

"We lost a true great. A true legend," Domingo wrote on Instagram. "What an honor 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. 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. R.I.P."

Gossett is survived by his sons, Satie and Sharron Gossett, and several grandchildren.


Michael Gambon, Actor Who Played Dumbledore in 'Harry Potter,' Dies at 82

Arthur Schmidt, Oscar-Winning 'Forrest Gump' and 'Who Framed Roger Rabbit' Film Editor, Dies at 86

William Friedkin, Director of 'The French Connection' and 'The Exorcist,' Dies at 87