The legendary actor, Louis Gossett, Jr., has been a theatrical force to be reckoned with both in film and on stage for decades. His iconic character portrayals continue to leave indelible impressions on the hearts and minds of audiences worldwide, which has been the case ever since
becoming an actor at the tender age 16.
The recipient of numerous industry awards for his film and television work, Gossett, Jr., is probably best known for roles like “Fiddler” in the ABC 1977 mini-series, “Roots,” and the nononsense drill sergeant in “An Officer and A Gentleman,” in 1982, which won him an Emmy and Oscar, respectively. Having been in over 300 films, the agile and commanding 83 year-old is still acting, but is also focusing his efforts on helping to incur some necessary societal change with his nonprofit organization, Eracism Foundation. The Eracism Foundation of which Gossett, Jr. is the founder, president and board chair, was created to “provide training for youth and adults alike, that enriches their lives by assisting them in setting examples for living a racially diverse and culturally inclusive life.
This is important to Gossett, Jr. , who says he didn’t experience racism until he got to Hollywood at 17 years-old. Born in Brooklyn, NY in 1936, Gossett, Jr., grew up in a multicultural community where African Americans, Jews, Italians and Latinos grew up together and lived harmoniously. In addition to Gossett, it was a community from where successful people like renowned actor/singer, Barbara Streisand; the late television/ movie producer, as well as talk show host, David Susskind; baseball great, Jackie Robinson and New York politician, Jacob Javitz, etc., all originated.
“In retrospect, I respect the community from which I came. We were postdepression children where nobody was better than anybody else,” shared Gossett, Jr. “ We played together and I had my choice of going around the world eating with other families when my parents worked late, where I could get lasagna, gefilte fish, corned beef and cabbage, fried chicken, etc. We created a society—we played and worked together. Those are the people I grew up with, so I had no idea about racism,” he said. However, that quickly changed upon arriving in Los Angeles, CA., for his first TV Movie of The week, at 17 years-old, after excelling in a lead in a Broadway play, for which he beat out 400 other people.
What began him getting the VIP treatment, complete with first class seating on the plane ride there, a room at an exclusive Beverly Hills hotel and being driven in a rental car to the studio, soon turned into a nightmare. On the way, he was stopped repeatedly by policeman, menacingly inquiring about his identity and why was he there.
“It took me three and a half hours to get back to my hotel, as I was even handcuffed to a tree for three hours,” said Gossett, Jr.. “That was my first experience with racism and I had to quickly learn to adjust. My agent asked me what was I going to do, and I said, ‘I’m going to go to work,’ and he said, ‘that’s exactly why we chose you.” “It took me three and a half hours to get back to my hotel, as I was even handcuffed to a tree for three hours,” said Gossett, Jr.. “That was my first experience with racism and I had to quickly learn to adjust. My agent asked me what was I going to do, and I said, ‘I’m going to go to work,’ and he said, ‘that’s
exactly why we chose you.” And he’s been successfully working in his preferred trade, ever since.
The newly transplanted Atlantan, says work, family and the rapid growth of the film industry in Atlanta, is what helped him torelocate here. In addition to working on developing and expanding programs to execute the mission of his Eracism Foundation, he has also authored an autobiography called, “An Actor and A Gentleman,” which was released this year.
These days, however, what is most important to Gossett, Jr. is doing what he can to change the
world for the better. He says he is humbly trying to make this a better planet for everyone and
eradicating racism and poverty and addressing climate change are all of vital importance to him.
“Fear is a dangerous thing and racism is a disease that starts with fear,” he said. “There has to be mutual acceptance, which is the salvation of this country and if we don’t take care of each other and the planet, we’re done,” he continued. “Our planet is dying and our first job is to do what we can and must do for the benefit of the whole. There should be no child on this planet without free food, clothing, education and shelter,” Gossett, Jr. said.
“It’s a domino principle. We just need to get back to the basics. If we take better care of our food chain, take care of our children, and learn and apply mutual acceptance, we would be amazed at what we would get in return.”