Friday, March 29, 2024

The Last of Mr. Gossett

I don’t even know where to start in honoring the life and seven-decades-long career of Louis Gossett Jr., the Coney Island-born actor who died earlier today in Malibu, California, at age 87.

Gossett picked up the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in 1982 for his performance as Sergeant Emil Foley, an uncompromising but not unfeeling Marine drill sergeant in An Officer and a Gentleman—“the first Black performer to win in that category,” says The New York Times. For his role as Fiddler, the compassionate mentor to Kunta Kinte (LeVar Burton) in the acclaimed 1977 TV mini-series Roots, Gossett captured an Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor.

However, it was some of his less well-remembered appearances that came to mind when I heard he’d passed away. In the 1971 comedy-western film Skin Game, for instance, Gossett played a savvy con man who allows himself to be repeatedly sold as a slave by his partner, James Garner. He and Garner worked together again in two episodes of The Rockford Files, with Gossett then playing a guileful private investigator, Marcus Aurelius "Gabby" Hayes, and Isaac Hayes guest-starring as ex-con Gandolph “Gandy” Fitch. Rockford producers hoped to spin Hayes and Fitch off into their own weekly NBC-TV series, but it never happened. Gossett did, though, star in another short-lived crime drama, Gideon Oliver, in 1989, playing a Columbia University anthropology professor who uses “his knowledge of past cultures to solve crimes throughout the Western Hemisphere.” The show was based very loosely on Aaron Elkins’ Gideon Oliver mysteries. He later featured in two better-than-average TV mystery movies during the mid-1990s—Ray Alexander: A Taste for Murder and Ray Alexander: A Menu for Murder—portraying a San Francisco café owner who moonlights as a detective. James Coburn and Tracy Nelson joined him as principles in both of those.

Gossett’s credits on the Internet Movie Database extend all the way back to the late 1950s. They include roles in small-screen series ranging from Chuck Connors’ Cowboy in Africa and James Franciscus’ Longstreet to Mod Squad, McCloud, Petrocelli, Harry O, and Boardwalk Empire, plus films as diverse as A Raisin in the Sun (1961), The White Dawn (1974), Iron Eagle (1986), The Perfect Game (2008), and the 2023 version of The Color Purple. Louis Gossett Jr. didn’t always have an easy life; he contended with depression and a drug habit during his up-and-down career. But he always seemed at ease, or at least in command of his talents, when he stepped before the eye of a camera. For that fact, we should be grateful he once strode among us.

READ MORE:The Louis Gossett I Knew,” by Wil Haygood (The Washington Post); “The Late Great Louis Gossett Jr.,” by Terence Towles Canote (A Shroud of Thoughts).


DDavis said...

Great actor. I never saw the Gideon Oliver series, but I loved the Rockford episodes. What a dream to have had Gossett and Isaac Hayes together in a series.

Robert Gossett, who played Chief Taylor on The Closer and Major Crimes, was his first cousin.

Scott said...

I think I still have those Gideon Oliver episodes on VHS. I think my favorite movie of his was the HBO movie El Diablo. He played a cowboy whose legend was not as it seems in the Old West pulp stories. As I have gotten older I take great pride in one of his lines in the movie. He opens his coat to Anthony Edwards to reveal he does not carry 2 pistols anymore, instead he carries 6 and says to him "I am not as fast as I used to be but I cheat real good".

Steve Aldous said...

One of his best TV guest appearances was in the Alias Smith and Jones episode 'The Bounty Hunter' as bounty hunter - professional - Joe Sims. It's a great story and a great characterisation.