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Louis Gossett Jr ‘paved way for black actors’, say Color Purple cast in tribute

American actor Louis Gossett Jr has been hailed as a “true legend and great” and for “paving the way for black actors” by the cast of The Color Purple following his death at the age of 87.

He won the supporting actor Academy Award for An Officer And A Gentleman, the first black man to take home the gong, when he starred opposite Richard Gere and Debra Winger in the 1982 romance drama.

Gossett Jr also won an Emmy for his role in the 1977 US series Roots, which depicted the horrors of slavery, as the musician Fiddler.

His death was confirmed to the AP news agency by his first cousin Neal L Gossett who said he had died in Santa Monica, California, on Friday morning.

Gossett Jr’s last role was in the 2023 remake of The Color Purple, which is a reimagining of Alice Walker’s 1982 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of the same name.

In it, he played Ol’ Mister Johnson, who is father of Albert “Mister” Johnson (Colman Domingo) and father-in-law to the main character, Celie Harris (Fantasia Barrino).

The 80th Academy Awards – Arrivals – Los Angeles
Louis Gossett Jr, right, with actress Beverly Todd (Ian West/PA)

An Instagram post by Domingo said: “We lost a true great. A true legend. What an honour to have been able to give him his flowers on his last day of his final film The Color Purple where he played my father.

“Fantasia sang it best … He ran his race for us. We are forever indebted. May we stand firmly on his shoulders. Lift him up today. RIP”

Barrino also wrote: “Louis Gossett Jr, what an awesome man you were and the stories you told us, I’ll never, ever forget. You left behind so many tokens for us and paved the way for black actors and actresses. You will be missed, but man did you live a blessed life.”

The new film was produced by Oprah Winfrey and Steven Spielberg, who starred and directed the 1985 version, respectively, as well as Scott Sanders and Quincy Jones.

Gossett Jr also appeared in TV movies including The Story Of Satchel Paige, Backstairs At The White House, The Josephine Baker Story, for which he won a Golden Globe, and Roots Revisited.

He was also known for the 2019 show of superhero drama Watchmen, where he played Hooded Justice/Will Reeves, and series Sadat, where he played the former president of Egypt, Anwar Sadat.