Louis Gossett, Jr.
Who is he?
Louis Gossett, Jr. was the poor man’s Samuel L. Jackson in the 1970s and 1980s.
Why is he underrated?
In an early episode of Seth MacFarlane’s Family Guy (the program containing the most pop culture references for the 18-34 crowd), there’s a plot line involving Lois and Peter’s attempt to conceive another child and Stewie’s attempts to thwart such conception. After trying nearly everything within the realm of general possibility, Stewie gets into a shrinking spaceship and goes on a Fantastic Voyage-like ride through Peter’s innards to obliterate his sperm, thereby killing the possibility of child #4.
Long story short, ultimately the spaceship will re-expand in short order and Stewie find the quickest way out is the tear ducts. In order to make Peter cry, he and one of the sperm (played ably by fellow underrated actor Wallace Shawn) sing a duet of “Up Where We Belong,” (from An Officer and A Gentleman) by Joe Cocker and Jennifer Warnes. Lois, impressed with Peter’s emotions, tell him she loves him, to which he responds “And I love you, Lou Gossett, Jr.”
And why wouldn’t he? Everyone should love Lou Gossett, Jr. The guy’s resume is impeccable. He did plays on Broadway form the time he was 16 years old. In 1959, he was offered a starring role in A Raisin in the Sun, opposite Sidney Poitier and Ruby Dee, turning down a job outside of acting to take the role. From there, it was off to Hollywood to reprise his role in the 1961 movie adaptation of the play.
Oh, that job offer he turned down? It was a contract to play with the New York Knicks. In a related story, the 2010 Knicks offered him a contract as well, one that he again turned down with regrets.
Once he got to Hollywood, he kicked around doing a ton of TV work through out the 1960s and 70s, but it was the role of Fiddler in Alex Haley’s epic miniseries Roots that really got his career going. Gossett won an Emmy for his turn as Fiddler, the older slave charged with teaching Toby/Kunta Kinte (played by LeVar Burton) the ways of being a slave. There's not much to say about Roots here, since a line or two will hardly do it justice. It's a shockingly earnest depiction of the horrors of slavery in the United States in the 18th century, told through Haley's own ancestry.
For Gossett from there, it was sunshine and daisies as far as the eye could see. He won an Oscar for the aforementioned An Officer and a Gentleman, where he played the drill sergeant assigned to shove rodents up Richard Gere’s ass. He starred in all four Iron Eagle movies (if you’re shocked that there were actually four of them, you’re not alone). This is not to ignore the monumentally horrid Jaws 3-D, for which Gossett garnered a Razzie award. Actually, in hindsight, Jaws 3-D is kind of an underrated movie in and of itself, if only for its hilariously awful direction and Dennis Quaid’s starring role.
Gossett’s career quieted down somewhat toward the end of the 1980s. He’s worked steadily. He starred with James Woods in 1992’s Diggstown, a criminally overlooked movie about a washed-up boxer making a comeback on the back of a bet that Woods made with a crooked businessman. Woods, on talk shows at the time, stated that the movie was almost 50% ad libbed, featuring lines such as “He's bigger than you are. He's tougher. He's faster. He's younger thant you are. He hasn't fought 22 rounds today, but remember this... you are BLACK!” It’s a brilliantly bad film, but Lou makes it work.
But that’s the thing about Gossett. There’s always a part for a guy like him: hardworking, fatherly, kick-ass black dude.
I love you, Lou Gossett, Jr.
And the award goes to
Gossett is one of a few folks in Hollywood history to garner an Emmy (for Roots), an Oscar (Best Supporting Actor for An Officer and a Gentleman) and a Razzie (for Jaws 3-D). That’s some solid work right there.