July 5, 2010 / 6:19 PM / 7 years ago

Louis Gossett details career marred by racism and drugs

4 Min Read

<p>Actor Louis Gossett Jr. talks during the Hollywood Christmas Parade in Los Angeles November 29, 2009.Phil McCarten</p>

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - He was not born on the fourth of July, but Louis Gossett, Jr. celebrates it like his birthday, nonetheless.

Not because July 4 is America's Independence Day. Rather, because it marks the Oscar-winning actor's own independence from years of living in a haze of freebase cocaine, alcohol and a toxic mold that invaded his house and his body.

Gossett, 74, has detailed his rebirth, which began with a trip to rehab in 2004, as well as details of his remarkable life in a new memoir, "An Actor and a Gentleman," which hit bookstores in May.

Six years after his own independence day, Gossett, an African American, has regained his health and dedicated his life to erasing racism, which caused anger and resentment in his career and fueled a need to escape through drug use.

"Once you put it through a blender, we are one people. We are all equal, and we need one another to survive and save this planet," he told Reuters.

But before Gossett could work on what he calls "eracism," the winner of the best supporting actor Oscar for playing a tough-as-nails drill sergeant in 1982's "An Officer and a Gentleman" had to go through hell.

His life didn't start out that way.

In fact, Gossett describes what he considers a charmed life growing up in Brooklyn, New York. While he was raised by working parents in a community rife with gangs, he did not want for much and escaped a lot of violence because, Gossett said, his friends and family members looked out for him.

He was skilled in basketball but had an innate talent for acting that, as a teenager, landed him a plum role in a stage play of "Take a Giant Step." Gossett took classes at the Actors Studio -- the famed school that at various times was home to James Dean, Marlon Brando and Marilyn Monroe.

Gossett writes that in those days, when Monroe was married to playwright Arthur Miller, she was one of the best actresses he ever worked with and, if she had lived and been able to explore her acting, she would have won Oscars too.

"He (Miller) made her think deep," Gossett said of Monroe. "She was born with an instrument, but then her sexuality was used instead of what was inside her."

Chained to a Tree

Throughout the 1950s and 60s, Gossett made a good living in Broadway theater before Hollywood beckoned with fat paychecks for television work. And while those jobs were good -- he won Emmys and Golden Globe trophies -- Los Angeles was hard.

In his chapter, "The Bubble Burst" Gossett recounts his first trip to Hollywood in 1967, when he took a stroll off the grounds of the Beverly Hills Hotel only to find himself stopped by police who chained him to a tree for hours.

Gossett complains that on TV and in movies throughout the 1970s and 1980s, getting jobs was twice as hard and he was typically paid on a lower scale than his white co-stars. Even winning the Oscar, he said, changed nothing.

"Somewhere along the way, that charm disappeared," Gossett said. But he is quick to add, "I needed to get experience from that, to get where I am today."

In his book, Gossett recounts good times and bad, such as his court battle with one ex-wife who accused him of giving his children cocaine -- a charge that was proven untrue.

Through it all, he continued to work when jobs came his way, but by the 1990s and early 2000s, he was sick. At one point, he was told he had six months to live.

Little did Gossett know, until 2001, that much of his illness was caused by a toxic mold growing in his Malibu home. Yet, the actor does not dodge the fact that drugs and alcohol altered his life, and his inability to deal with the racism he experienced was one crack in his armor that allowed drugs in.

Gossett has now dedicated himself to mentoring young people and helping them overcome problematic issues in their own lives, as well as stamping out racism around the world.

"I also think racism is one of those addictions. It's one of things in your system, and you have to do something everyday" to deal with it, he said.

Editing by Jill Serjeant

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