Louis Gossett, Jr. biography
Louis Gossett, Jr.
Date of Birth: May 27, 1936
With his characteristically commanding voice, Louis Gossett, Jr. has been enticing and entertaining audiences on-screen since the late 1950s.
Born in Brooklyn, he grew up playing basketball and earned a spot at NYU on an athletic scholarship. He was even invited to try out for the beloved New York Knicks, but instead opted to follow another passion: acting. Louis made his professional acting debut in 1953 at age 17 when his high school teacher encouraged him to audition for the Broadway play Take a Giant Step. He won the role and his career was launched.
He won his first on-screen part in the Emmy-nominated series The Big Story. He appeared in a 1957 episode and a 1958 episode. After being a part of the cast of the 1959 Broadway production of A Raisin in the Sun, he made his feature film debut working alongside Sidney Poitier in the 1961 silver screen adaptation, which was nominated for a Golden Globe.
The following year, Louis appeared in an episode of the five-time Emmy-nominated series The Doctors and the Nurses and in 1964, acted in an episode of the Emmy-winning show East Side/West Side with George C. Scott and Cicely Tyson.
He returned to film in 1969 for The Bushbaby and in 1970 for the Oscar-nominated comedy The Landlord with Beau Bridges.
After work on episodes of popular series in the early '70s including The Young Rebels, The Partridge Family, Longstreet, Mod Squad and Love, American Style, Louis teamed up with acclaimed British actress Maggie Smith for the Oscar-winning comedy Travels with My Aunt (1972). The following year, he shared the screen with Walter Matthau and Bruce Dern in the thriller The Laughing Policeman.
The mid-'70s was a busy period for Louis, with TV work on It's Good to Be Alive, McCloud, Petrocelli, Harry O, The Jeffersons and Little House on the Prairie. He also found time for film projects, including the adventure drama The White Dawn (1974) and the James Earl Jones and Cicely Tyson drama The River Niger (1976).
In 1977, Louis landed a role in a mini-series that would become one of his signature parts. He played Fiddler in Roots, an adaptation of Alex Haley's novel, which explores the life of African Kunta Kinte and his experience as a slave once brought to America. The series won a Golden Globe and Louis was recognized with an Emmy for his work. Also in 1977, he appeared in the Oscar-nominated adventure thriller The Deep with Jacqueline Bisset, Robert Shaw and Nick Nolte.
In the late '70s, Louis worked on the Emmy-nominated crime drama TV movie To Kill a Cop (1978), earned an Emmy nod for the mini-series Backstairs at the White House (1979), and also played a starring role as Dr. MacArthur St. Clair in the series The Lazarus Syndrome (1979).
With the comedy It Rained All Night the Day I Left (1980), Louis had the opportunity to work with Tony Curtis. But his biggest role of the period, and arguably the biggest role of his career, came when he was cast as tough Sgt. Emil Foley in the romance drama An Officer and a Gentleman (1982). Starring Richard Gere and Debra Winger, the film won the Oscar for Best Original Song ("Up Where We Belong") and Louis nabbed the Best Supporting Actor trophy. His victory gave him the distinction of becoming the first African American actor to win the Best Supporting Actor prize, the second African American male actor to win an Oscar, and only the third African American performer to ever win an Academy Award for acting.
Louis also took home a Golden Globe and Image Award for his performance.
Aside from the film's two wins, An Officer and a Gentleman was nominated in five other Oscar categories.
Louis capitalized on his Oscar win by snagging parts in several other projects throughout the '80s, including a recurring role on the sci-fi series The Powers of Matthew Star, the drama biopic Sadat (1983), for which he earned Golden Globe and Emmy nods, the thriller Jaws 3-D (1983) with Dennis Quaid, and the TV movies A Gathering of Old Men (1987), for which he received an Emmy nominaiton, and Sam Found Out: A Triple Play (1988) with Liza Minnelli.
The early '90s were marked by work in both TV and film. He won a Golden Globe for his powerful turn in the TV movie The Josephine Baker Story (1991), acted alongside Bruce Dern and Melissa Leo in the TV movie Carolina Skeletons (1991), appeared in the sports film Diggstown (1992) with James Woods and again Bruce Dern, teamed up with Bill Paxton and John Hurt in the sci-fi flick Monolith (1993), and worked with Jon Voight and Barbara Hershey in the Emmy-nominated mini-series Return to Lonesome Dove (1993).
Louis' schedule was packed throughout the remainder of the '90s, with a guest role on the Golden Globe-winning series Picket Fences (1994) starring Kathy Baker, the comedy feature A Good Man in Africa (1994) with Sean Connery, the drama feature Curse of the Starving Class (1994) with James Woods and Kathy Bates, the TV movie Ray Alexander: A Menu for Murder (1995) with James Coburn, the 1996 Emmy-winning mini-series 1914-1918 (originally titled The Great War and the Shaping of the 20th Century) with Judi Dench, a 1997 episode of Touched by an Angel, for which he was awarded an Emmy nod, and the TV movie Strange Justice (1999) with Delroy Lindo and Mandy Patinkin.
Always one to flex his muscles on both the small screen and the silver screen, Louis filled the 2000s with several distinct projects. He worked with Gena Rowlands on the Emmy-nominated TV movie The Color of Love: Jacey's Story (2000), the comedic thriller The Highwayman (2000) with Jason Priestley, the TV movie Momentum (2003) with Teri Hatcher, the Golden Globe-winning TV movie Lackawanna Blues (2005), five episodes of the series Stargate SG-1 between 2005 and 2006, the drama Daddy's Little Girls (2007) with Gabrielle Union and Idris Elba, the animated adventure comedy Delgo (2008) with Freddie Prinze Jr. and Val Kilmer, and the drama The Perfect Game (2009).
In 2010, he teamed up with Janet Jackson and Tyler Perry for the romcom Why Did I Get Married Too? and in 2012, worked with Peter Fonda and Mira Sorvino on the family film Smitty.
His most recent credits include the sport drama A Fighting Man (2014) with Dominic Purcell, four episodes of the Halle Berry sci-fi series Extant between 2014 and 2015, the Aunjanue Ellis mini-series The Book of Negroes (2015), Undercover Grandpa (2016) with James Caan and the film Double Play (2017).
Louis, who started the foundation Eracism with the aim of helping create a society where racism cannot exist, was married to Hattie Glascoe in the mid '60s, Christina Mangosing from 1973 to 1975 (with whom he had one child), and to Cyndi James Gossett from 1987 to 1992.
In June 2016, he spoke with The Washington Times about his life and the roles he still has his eye on. He said, "There's more stories to tell about our history. Everybody knows about the Romans and the Greeks and the Vikings and the British, [but] there's [another] culture that's very rich: the African culture. All of those cultures need to be put on the screen properly, and I think it's going to be done. Before I pass, I'd like to play one of those leaders."
He added, "We have to tell those stories. Our inclusion in history is important to see, especially for African-American children. They have to know whose shoulders they stand on."
Louis received the Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2017 Toronto Black Film Festival for his on-screen credits and tireless advocacy work.
Louis Gossett, Jr. Filmography