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Having been an acclaimed performer on stage and decorated for his work on screen, actor Louis Gossett, Jr. was unable to sustain the kind of quality career worthy of someone who has won both an Emmy and Academy Award. After making a splash on Broadway while only 16 years old, Gossett made his name with acclaimed performances in "The Desk Set" (1955) and "A Raisin in the Sun" (1959), while making slower strides on television and in feature films. He finally became a star with his Emmy-winning performance in the groundbreaking miniseries, "Roots" (ABC, 1977), which opened fewer doors than one would have imagined. With his strong performance as a tough-as-nails drill sergeant in "An Officer and a Gentleman" (1982), Gossett became the first African-American to win an Academy Awards since Sidney Poitier in 1964. But the offers for quality material failed to roll in, which plunged the actor into a depression made worse by drug and alcohol abuse. He managed to pull himself out of his rut with numerous made-for-television movies and a well-liked role as an Air Force colonel in "Iron Eagle" (1985). Though sometimes confined to rather forgettable straight-to-video thrillers, Gossett's long and varied career...
Having been an acclaimed performer on stage and decorated for his work on screen, actor Louis Gossett, Jr. was unable to sustain the kind of quality career worthy of someone who has won both an Emmy and Academy Award. After making a splash on Broadway while only 16 years old, Gossett made his name with acclaimed performances in "The Desk Set" (1955) and "A Raisin in the Sun" (1959), while making slower strides on television and in feature films. He finally became a star with his Emmy-winning performance in the groundbreaking miniseries, "Roots" (ABC, 1977), which opened fewer doors than one would have imagined. With his strong performance as a tough-as-nails drill sergeant in "An Officer and a Gentleman" (1982), Gossett became the first African-American to win an Academy Awards since Sidney Poitier in 1964. But the offers for quality material failed to roll in, which plunged the actor into a depression made worse by drug and alcohol abuse. He managed to pull himself out of his rut with numerous made-for-television movies and a well-liked role as an Air Force colonel in "Iron Eagle" (1985). Though sometimes confined to rather forgettable straight-to-video thrillers, Gossett's long and varied career allowed him to be regarded as one of the more respected performers of his generation.
Born on May 27, 1936 in Brooklyn, NY, Gossett was raised by his father, Louis Sr., a porter for the local gas company who eventually became head of the billing department, and his mother, Helen, a maid and nurse who was able to quit her job and earn her high school diploma once her son achieved early success. Having been a lettered athlete in baseball, basketball and track at Abraham Lincoln High School, Gossett suffered an injury that forced him to put aside his sports ambitions for a time. But a silver lining appeared when he filled his spare time by taking an acting class in school, making his stage debut in a production of "You Can't Take It With You" in his teens. At age 16, Gossett made Broadway history by appearing as a star in "Take a Giant Step" (1953), a role the untrained actor earned after beating out 400 hopefuls. Setting his sights on an acting career, he concentrated collegiate efforts at New York University on earning his bachelor's in theater, training with the likes of Frank Silvera, Nola Chilton and Lloyd Richards.
While still attending NYU and playing basketball on the team, Gossett made his television debut on the anthology series, "The Philco Television Playhouse" (NBC, 1948-1955), followed by a return to Broadway in support of star Shirley Booth in a production of "The Desk Set" (1955). Meanwhile, his play on the basketball court for NYU garnered enough interest from the New York Knicks to be invited to rookie training camp after graduating in 1959. But finding the camp physically taxing on his body, which was already ravaged by injury, he decided instead to turn down the offer and take a role in Lorraine Hansberry's ground-breaking Broadway drama, "A Raisin in the Sun" (1959). Making his feature film debut, he reprised his role as George Murchison opposite Sidney Poitier in the 1961 film version of the play. While maintaining a steady presence as a nightclub singer at clubs like The Bitter End, Black Pussy Cat and Gaslight Club, Gossett continued his love affair with the New York stage, acting in such productions as the musical version of "Golden Boy" (1964), "My Sweet Charlie" (1966) and "Carry Me Back to Morningside Heights" (1968).
Though the stage remained a favorite place to perform for the actor, Gossett also began appearing more frequently on television, logging episodes of "The Defenders" (CBS, 1961-65), "Daktari" (CBS, 1966-69) and "The Mod Squad" (ABC, 1968-1973). This exposure led to his first regular series role as 18th-century blacksmith Isak Poole in "The Young Rebels" (ABC, 1970-71), which ran for a scant 13 episodes before being canceled. Although he appeared in only one feature film during the 1960s, Gossett's big screen reputation grew quickly in the 1970s with critically acclaimed work in comedies like "The Landlord" (1970) and "Travels with My Aunt" (1972). Following co-starring turns in "The Laughing Policeman" (1973) and "The White Dawn" (1974), he delivered a strong performance opposite James Earl Jones and Cicely Tyson in the film adaptation of the Tony Award-winning drama, "The River Niger" (1975). Gossett's popularity soared exponentially on the strength of his eloquent, Emmy-winning portrayal of Fiddler in the landmark miniseries "Roots" (ABC, 1977), which he followed with a riveting performance as a drug-dealing cutthroat stalking Nick Nolte and Jacqueline Bisset in "The Deep" (1977).
Gossett portrayed Dr MacArthur St Clair in the short-lived medical drama "The Lazarus Syndrome" (ABC, 1979), delivered an Emmy-nominated turn as a faithful butler in the miniseries "Backstairs at the White House" (NBC, 1979) and lent his athleticism to the part of baseball great Satchel Paige in the biopic "Don't Look Back" (ABC, 1981). Gossett reached the height of his acting profession with his turn as the tough-as-nails, by-the-book drill sergeant who rides a promising, but self-absorbed cadet (Richard Gere) in "An Officer and a Gentleman" (1982), a performance that won him a Best Supporting Actor Academy Award. Becoming the first African-American man to win an Oscar since Sidney Poitier, Gossett was prepared for his career to truly take off. But instead, the offers of bigger and better roles failed to materialize. Despite having an Emmy and Oscar to his name, Gossett fell into a void of self-pity and despair while medicating himself with drugs and alcohol. Slowly, however, he managed to lift himself out of his depression through rehabilitation. Meanwhile, in 1985, Gossett became deeply moved by an ABC news story about child poverty, which prompted him to find Sharron, one of the children featured in the segment, and offer monetary support. He later became Sharron's legal guardian after adopting the young boy.
Continuing to work through his battles with sobriety, Gossett earned an Emmy Award nomination for his portrayal of Anwar Sadat in the syndicated miniseries "Sadat" (1983). Back on the big screen, he excelled as a razor-sharp con-man in "Finders Keepers" (1984), won kudos as the lizard-like alien in the sci-fi adventure "Enemy Mine" (1985), and established the action adventure franchise "Iron Eagle" (1985), playing Air Force Colonel Charles "Chappy" Sinclair, a role he reprised for two feature sequels and a made-for-television movie. Saving his best performances for the small screen, he turned in a finely tuned portrayal of a strong-willed septuagenarian in "A Gathering of Old Men" (CBS, 1987), which earned him another Emmy nomination. In "The Father Clements Story" (NBC, 1987), he played a real-life Chicago priest who bucks the archdiocese by adopting a street kid (Malcolm-Jamal Warner). Following reprisals in "Iron Eagle II" (1988) and "Roots: The Gift" (ABC, 1988), he starred as the titular anthropology professor who uses his knowledge of past cultures to solve crimes in the rotating series, "Gideon Oliver" (ABC, 1989). Gossett rounded out the decade with a co-starring turn in the first stab at adapting the Marvel comic, "The Punisher" (1989), which wound up being a low-budget Australian production that received only a direct-to-video release in the United States.
Still working steadily in the 1990s, Gossett turned up in a thankless supporting role opposite Dolph Lungren in the spy thriller, "Cover Up" (1990), though he redeemed himself with a Golden Globe-winning performance in "The Josephine Baker Story" (HBO, 1991), starring Lynn Whitfield as the black American expatriate entertaining Parisian audiences in the 1920s and 1930s. Following feature roles in "Toy Soldiers" (1991) and "Diggstown" (1992), in which he played a down-and-out boxer, Gossett reprised Chappy Sinclair for "Iron Eagle III" (1992), the last feature installment in the series. After the sci-fi adventure "Monolith" (1993) and playing a dignitary in "A Good Man in Africa" (1994), Gossett sought more creative control over his projects when he entered the producing game with the television movie, "Ray Alexander: A Taste for Justice" (NBC, 1994). While continuing to turn up in bottom-shelf cop thrillers like "Flashfire" (1994), he starred in and produced more critically acclaimed dramatic fare like the apartheid-themed "Inside" (Showtime, 1996) and the inspirational true story, "Run For the Dream: The Gail Devers Story" (Showtime, 1996), starring Charlayne Woodard as the 1992 Olympic gold medalist.
By the time the new millennium was approaching, Gossett found himself appearing in a series of less-than-stellar projects that were far beneath his natural talents. After flogging an already dead franchise with "Iron Eagle IV: On the Attack" (HBO, 1996), arguably the worst of the three sequels, the actor portrayed a stock broker who investigates the mysterious death of an American journalist (John Rice) in Nicaragua in the mediocre thriller, "Managua" (1997). He next starred in and executive produced the thriller "The Inspectors" (Showtime, 1998), which spawned a sequel two years later with "Inspectors 2: A Shred of Evidence" (Showtime, 2000). Gossett was both star and producer of "The Color of Love: Jacey's Story" (CBS, 2000), a frank and sensitive depiction of racial intolerance. While Gossett remained an active presence in television, his feature output had dwindled in the new century, as the actor logged on a few small roles in films like "All In" (2006) and "Tyler Perry's Daddy's Little Girls" (2007). He mostly stayed with television movies like "For Love of Olivia" (CBS, 2001), "Jasper, Texas" (Showtime, 2003) and "Momentum" (Syfy, 2003), while appearing in series such as "The Dead Zone" (USA, 2001-08) and "Stargate SG-1" (Syfy, 1997-2007), the latter of which provided the actor a recurring role as Gerak, the former First Prime of Montu, during the show's ninth season. He delivered a supporting turn in the multi-award winning "Lackawanna Blues" (HBO, 2005), followed by a return to features with "Tyler Perry's Why Did I Get Married Too?" (2010).
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Some sources list 1937 as the year of Mr. Gossett's birth.
Among Gossett's numerous charities are The Muscular Dystrophy Association, The United Negro College Fund, The United Nations "World Summit For Children", the Children's Candlelight Vigil, PATH (People Assisting the Homeless), Boy's Hope, The End Hunger Network, National Rainbow Coalition, and Coalition to Stop the Violence. He is a recipient of the Wings of Hope Anti-Drug Award, the Martin Luther King Jr Alumni Award, an Honorary Big Brother Award, and Indiana State Senator, Carolina Mosby's Above and Beyond Award.
Gossett on his role as a black drill sergeant who is the mentor of Jason Gedrick's teenage hero in "Iron Eagle": "I like the part of Chappy because the character's a father figure for a black man -- a hero for a change. The movies have such an impact on children these days that a positive role like this takes racism and throws it away. It's my pleasant duty to jump into any role like that." --quoted in the "Iron Eagle" press kit, 1987.
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