Actor Louis Gossett Jr. tells life story in new book

Gossett talk to The Malibu Times about “An Actor and a Gentleman,” and what it was like to write the autobiography.

By Jimy Tallal / Special to the Malibu Times

Longtime Malibu resident and Academy Award winner Louis Gossett,Jr., 74, has written his life story in the new book “An Actor and a Gentleman,” scheduled for release May 17. The book details his personal and professional experiences through 60 years of show business-from his rise to stardom on Broadway while still a teenager to what it was like to work with many of the top acting and entertainment icons of the fifties and sixties such as Marilyn Monroe, Sammy Davis, Jr. and Sidney Poitier. He will appear at the Malibu Lumber Yard Saturday to talk about his book and career.

However, Gossett perhaps became seared into the public’s consciousness after his Oscar-winning role as Sgt. Emil Foley in “An Officer and a Gentleman,” which starred Richard Gere and Debra Winger. It wasn’t his only award-winning role, he also earned an Emmy for his work in the television miniseries “Roots” and a Golden Globe for “The Josephine Baker Story.”

Gossett has traveled the world on hundreds of film and television projects over the years and met everyone from the Beatles and Jimi Hendrix to Nelson Mandela and Barack Obama.

Some of the life experiences Gossett writes about in his book are downright death defying. He participated in civil rights marches in the sixties, had a pygmy hold a poison arrow to his head on a shoot in Africa, got caught in a riot in South Africa, and was late getting to Sharon Tate’s house for a party the night she was murdered by Charles Manson.

Race relations in America are a significant part of Gossett’s personal story, causing him a great deal of internal conflict during his lifetime. Gossett grew up in integrated neighborhoods in Brooklyn and Coney Island, and was sheltered by his parents and extended family. He had to learn the hard way that it was better to stay invisible than to drive or even walk down the street as a black man with money when he came to Los Angeles in the sixties. It wasn’t until he was an adult that he experienced what it was like to be refused service in a restaurant because of his color. And during most of his decades of working in showbiz, he often learned that his Caucasian counterparts and co-stars were earning more money than he was for comparable roles on a project.

Gossett, in an interview with The Malibu Times said that writing about the ups and downs of his personal life-his romances and marriages, his children, and his struggle with drugs and alcohol, the times he “might have hurt someone or someone might have hurt me”-was the hardest part of telling his life story. He said the process of writing the book “was an exorcism; an emotional roller-coaster,” but that he felt “it was time after 60 years [in show business]. I was full of that stuff and I needed to empty it out. It was God’s way of chiseling out my character.”

These days, Gossett is still juggling a number of acting and producing projects for both movies and television. He had acting roles in the 2010 released films “Why Did I Get Married Too” and “Smitty,” and was the executive producer of the TV documentary “For Love of Liberty: the Story of America’s Black Patriots.” Gossett is also involved with his nonprofit foundation Eracism, a program he hopes to base in what the calls the “black ghetto” in Los Angeles or Washington D.C., to help at-risk youths learn self-respect and not join gangs.

While Gossett said he is a down-to-earth man who enjoys his two dogs and likes watching a good basketball game, he also has a tendency to become philosophical.

“The key to life is movement and change,” he said. “We’re all part of a balance and a rhythm. We all have our own path, and mine has become one of service, longevity and the gaining of wisdom. I’ve had a full career.”

Gossett will be signing copies of his autobiography “An Actor and a Gentleman” at the Malibu Lumber Yard on Saturday, from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. A free outdoor screening of his Academy Award winning film “An Officer and a Gentleman” will begin at 8 p.m.

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