Trailblazing Black Oscar winner Louis Gossett Jr dead at 87

US actor Louis Gossett Jr, arrives for the 80th Annual Academy Awards at the Kodak Theater in Hollywood, California, on 24 February, 2008.AFP

Louis Gossett Jr, the first Black man to win a best supporting actor Oscar for his performance as a hard-man drill instructor in 'An Officer and a Gentleman', has died. He was 87.

Gossett's family said he died Thursday night in Los Angeles without stating the cause, multiple US media outlets reported.

Gossett appeared in more than 60 movies, and in 1983 became the third Black actor -- after Hattie McDaniel and Sidney Poitier -- to win an Academy Award, for his supporting role as a stern gunnery sergeant in Taylor Hackford's 'An Officer and a Gentleman'.

The movie also netted the actor a Golden Globe, and he later picked up another supporting actor Globe for 'The Josephine Baker Story', as well as an Emmy for the eight-part smash-hit ABC miniseries 'Roots'.

The New York native, who announced in 2010 that he had prostate cancer, cultivated a tough guy image that paid dividends in a slew of action movies, including 'Iron Eagle' (1986) and 'The Punisher' (1989).

Gossett chronicled his painful experiences as a trailblazing Black actor in his memoir, 'An Actor and a Gentleman', including his first trip to Los Angeles in the 1960s when he was pulled over by police four times during a single car journey.

"The only time I was really free was when the director said 'action' in front of a camera or on the stage and that's when I flew," he told The LA Times in 2008.

US actor Louis Gossett Jr, poses during a photocall for the TV series "The Book of Negroes" as part of the MIPCOM, on 13 October, 2014 in Cannes, southeastern France.

'Someone with history'

Divorced from his third wife in 1992, Gossett lived in Malibu, California and raised two sons.

He was born in Brooklyn, New York on 27 May, 1936, and cut his teeth on stage, appearing in 'Take a Giant Step', which was selected as one of the 10 best Broadway shows of 1953 by The New York Times.

He won a part in the 1959 Broadway production of Lorraine Hansberry's 'A Raisin in the Sun' before making his Hollywood debut alongside Poitier in the film version two years later.

His other credits include 'The Deep', 'Blue Chips', 'Daddy's Little Girls', 'Firewalker' and 'Jaws-3D'.

Gossett Jr came to wide attention on the small screen, winning an Emmy for his turn as the slave Fiddler in 'Roots', a cultural phenomenon that drew more than 100 million viewers for its finale in January 1977.

He was nominated for television's top prize six more times, including for his portrayal of Anwar Sadat in the 1983 miniseries 'Sadat'.

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He told entertainment industry bible Variety in 2015 that his role in the TV movie as the Egyptian leader who made peace with Israel was his favorite.

"It was a challenge to play someone with history like that. His spirit was very much like Mandela's. He transitioned from a hawk to a dove," he said.

He continued to work well into his 70s, appearing briefly on HBO's 'Boardwalk Empire' and CBS shows 'Extant' and 'Madam Secretary', as well as NBC's 'ER' and HBO superhero series 'Watchmen'.

"In our eyes, you were a LEADING man despite your many inspiring roles as supporting characters. Thank you for your undeniable talent," civil rights attorney Ben Crump said on X, formerly Twitter.

Gossett Jr's representatives did not immediately respond to a request for comment.