Brooklyn native Louis Gossett Jr. paved the way for aspiring actors, New Yorkers say

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NEW YORK — Brooklyn native and Academy Award winner Louis Gossett Jr. died Thursday at age 87.

A local legend on stage and screen, Gossett was the first Black man to win an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.

For the better part of a century, Gossett did it all — from “Roots” in 1977, to being an Oscar-winning drill sergeant in 1982 to a Cuban nursing home musician in 2019.

It all started in Coney Island, where he grew up the son of a porter and a maid. He discussed his upbringing in a CBS Sunday Morning interview in 2020.

“We had nothing. That’s what we thought we had,” he said.

Gossett attended Mark Twain Intermediate and Abraham Lincoln High School, both in Coney Island, before going to New York University.

By the age of 23, he was an original cast member in Lorraine Hansberry’s “A Raisin in the Sun” on Broadway, helping launch a career that would pave the way for Black actors that followed, especially fellow actors from Brooklyn who knew him.

“Did you, when you were younger, look towards him for inspiration, even before you might have been able to meet him?” CBS New York’s Doug Williams asked actor Michael Jai White.

“Absolutely,” White said. “Lou was somebody who just, just raised life up.”

“Motivated me, inspired me, and also pushed me to do the work and to be as humble and gracious as he is,” actor Jamie Hector said. “You never know who you’re gonna affect, and he affected me. Because that’s the reason why when you were talking and you said ‘Brooklyn,’ I was like, yeah. I smiled because I’m a Brooklyn kid, you know. Him being born in Brooklyn and him succeeding and excelling the way that he did, I really gravitate to that.”

Prior to his death, Gossett had been living in Atlanta and Los Angeles, where his star can be seen on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. More than 2,000 miles away, he left another lasting mark on the neighborhood, the borough and the city, where it all began.

Mayor Eric Adams paid tribute Friday on social media, saying, “Louis Gossett Jr. was a pioneer who knocked down barriers for Black actors. He was also a New Yorker, born and raised in Coney Island and a graduate of [New York City Public Schools]. He made his hometown so proud and he will be truly missed. Rest in peace.”

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