Louis Gossett Jr. on Post-Oscar Heartbreak

Black Academy Awards Series: The actor told us he won the coveted prize -- but not the quality roles.

As we gear up for the 2013 Academy Awards, airing Feb. 24, The Root is speaking with black Oscar winners and nominees — past and present — about the prestigious honor. First in the series: Louis Gossett Jr.

(The Root) — Louis Gossett Jr. has been in the acting game for a long time. In 1953 a 17-year-old Gossett made his Broadway debut in Take a Giant Step. His first turn on the silver screen came as Beneatha Younger’s bourgeois suitor, George Murchison, in the 1961 classic film A Raisin in the Sun.

The Brooklyn, N.Y., native — who passed on an athletic scholarship while at New York University to focus on theater — has since starred in more than 150 theatrical releases and television productions, including his role as Gunnery Sgt. Emil Foley in the 1982 film An Officer and a Gentleman, for which he won an Academy Award for best supporting actor. But it was his Emmy-winning role as the older slave Fiddler in the 1977 groundbreaking TV miniseries Roots and its follow-up, Roots: The Gift, that introduced Gossett to many households.

At the time of his Oscar win, Gossett, now 76, was just the second black man to take home a gold statue for acting — the first was Sidney Poitier, who won the 1964 best actor prize for Lilies of the Field. With that accolade, it would have seemed a no-brainer that Gossett’s career would take off. But things didn’t pan out as he expected, ultimately leading him to be ensnared by self-pity and substance abuse.

The Root recently caught up with Gossett — who was on his way to New York to join his fellow Roots cast members in interview rounds celebrating the landmark production — and he told us about how his life changed after his Oscar win, his battle with alcoholism and why he walked out of Django Unchained.

The Root: How did your life change after you won the Oscar for best supporting actor 30 years ago?

Louis Gossett Jr.: It’s been a whirlpool; it’s been a roller coaster. But it took a minute for people to find things for me to do. It was the same thing with Roots; there wasn’t much employment. I did a lot of television, thank God. I did something with Chuck Norris. And I starred in the Iron Eagle movies. I got a chance to play [Anwar] Sadat. It was mostly all television.

I never got a million dollars for any movie I did in 60 years. Nobody paid me any money. So I figured my role was to keep the door open, to help break the door down. And I have a nice track record. So my role was to break the door down. I stand on Sidney Poitier’s shoulders.

TR: There’s been a lot of talk and controversy over the years about the lack of black Oscar nominees.