Louis Gossett Jr., the sergeant in An Officer and a Gentleman, has died: the first African American to win the Oscar for supporting actor


By John

Goodbye to the ruthless sergeant in An Officer and a Gentleman. Louis Gossett Jr., aka Emil Foley in the 1983 film starring Richard Gere, has passed away at the age of 87. For that role, Gossett became the first African American to be awarded an Oscar for supporting actor and the third to win cinema's biggest award after Hattie McDaniel in 1940 for Gone with the Wind and Sidney Poitier in 1964 for Lilies of the Field .

The actor died in Santa Monica, California: his family confirmed it and the causes of death have not yet been revealed. A native of Brooklyn, New York, Gossett made his debut at age 17 in a school production. He studied at New York University and thanks to his height, 1.93, he also had the opportunity to play basketball but he preferred theatre.

He became friends with James Dean and studied acting with Marilyn Monroe, Martin Landau and Steve McQueen. His film debut dates back to 1961 with “A Raisin in the Sun”, in the role of Sheriff George Murshinson. About twenty years later he made history by winning the Oscar for best supporting actor. “More than anything,” he wrote in his 2010 autobiography, “it was a huge affirmation of my position as a black actor, 'An actor and a gentleman.'”

Previously, in 1978, he had received an Emmy, the Oscar of TV, for the role of Violin in the miniseries Roots (1977). In his career he also won Golden Globes. In addition to cinema, Gossett has appeared in around one hundred television series including The Jeffersons, Little House on the Prairie, Boardwalk Empire: the last time in 2019 in Watchmen.

His last role on the big screen was in 2023 with the interpretation of Ol' Mister Johnson in The Color Purple. The actor also ended up in handcuffs or stopped by the police in Los Angeles several times for racial reasons. “Even though I had no choice but to throw up my hands in the face of this abuse,” he said, “I was treated horribly and humiliatingly. I realized this was happening because I was black and had a nice car. In their (the police's) mind, I had no right to drive it.” He also said that he would not let racism destroy him. To combat intolerance, Gossett created the Eracism Foundation, created with the aim of creating a world in which racism does not exist.