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Louis Gossett Jr., Oscar-winning star of ‘An Officer and a Gentleman,’ dead at 87

Actor Lou Gossett Jr. attends the 3rd Annual ICON MANN Power 50 Dinner on February 18, 2015 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo: Earl Gibson III/WireImage/Getty Images via CNN Newsource)

(CNN) — Louis Gossett Jr., a star of film and television who made history as the first Black man to win an Academy Award for supporting actor for his performance in “An Officer and a Gentleman,” has died at age 87, according to a statement from his family.

“It is with our heartfelt regret to confirm our beloved father passed away this morning. We would like to thank everyone for their condolences at this time. Please respect the family’s privacy during this difficult time,” the family’s statement, shared by Gossett’s longtime publicist, read.

Gosset made his debut on stage as a teenager after a basketball injury knocked him off the court and he signed up for an acting class, where he ended up finding his calling.

His first Broadway role was at the age of 15, when he played the lead in the production “Take A Giant Step.” Gossett continued to hone in on his craft with his eyes set on Hollywood – taking acting classes alongside the likes of Marilyn Monroe and Martin Landau.

But being a Black actor wasn’t easy.

“I had to really learn the importance of what it takes to survive in this town, and I had to act as if I was second class,” he said.  “I had to ingest the onus of being an African American person in America.”

In 1961, Gossett made his film debut in “A Raisin in the Sun.” He later appeared in several Blaxploitation films but struggled to land more the more robust roles he felt called to until 1977, when he played Fidler in the groundbreaking TV miniseries “Roots.” His performance won him an Emmy.

His groundbreaking 1982 portrayal of a Marine drill instructor in “An Office and a Gentleman” followed. Gosset went on to play more tough military roles in the “Iron Eagle” movies and the miniseries, “Sadat” where he portrayed the late Egyptian leader.

In 1992, he won a Golden Globe Award for playing civil rights activist Sidney Williams in HBO’s “The Josephine Baker Story.”

The actor was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2010 and decided to go public with the news “to set an example for the large number of African-American men who are victims of this disease because of the comparatively low emphasis in our community on preventive examinations and early treatment.”

“I want to influence them to seek, as I have, the fine medical care and early detection now available,” he said at the time.

That didn’t stop him, however, from doing the work that he loved.

He went on to have a distinguishing decade, mostly in TV shows like “Madame Secretary,” “Hap and Leonard” and HBO’s “Watchmen.”

Most recently he thrilled fans with his portrayal of the unyielding Ol’ Mister in the film adaptation of the Broadway musical “The Color Purple.”

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