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.

LG: I struggled with alcoholism on and off for 10 to 15 years. And I worked at the same time, until I couldn’t work. And I stopped. Thank God I stopped. I was doing to me what was done to me. I was being isolated, I was being second-classed, I was being underpaid, I was being ripped off.

I didn’t think I was being respected as somebody who had won an Oscar or Emmy. I didn’t think I was getting the money or the [proper] treatment on sets. And it builds up, and what it does is it becomes poison in my own system. So it’s nothing they have to do to me; I’m doing it to myself. I’ve been sober for about 15 years now.

TR: You started drinking shortly after An Officer and a Gentleman came out?

LG: I started drinking when nothing happened. I got the Oscar, but I didn’t get the work. And I got my heart broke. I was hurt. I said, “What else is there to do? I got the Oscar, but they’re not beating my door down.”

It’s a very lonely position — very lonely … And sometimes black people help pull black people down by sending drugs and alcohol and pretty women to them to pull them down and to make money. We have to be careful. I’ve devoted myself to staying focused by saying to young people there’s a better way to go, and you’re needed.

TR: In what ways do you help younger people?

LG: I’m mentoring young actors … I have a foundation I started in 2006 called the Eracism Foundation because of some of the experiences I’ve had on set because I was black and not treated as well as white actors. Also, this year I want to put in place the Shamba Center, which offers a full educational system where children can learn about who they are and upon whose shoulders they stand.

Aisha I. Jefferson is a frequent contributor to The Root. You can follow her on Twitter or visit her at aishaiman.com.

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