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Richard Gere Remembers His “Officer and a Gentleman” Costar Louis Gossett Jr.: 'He Drove Every Scene'

In a statement, obtained by PEOPLE, Richard Gere remembers Louis Gossett Jr. as “a sweetheart” who “took his job very seriously”

<p>Dia Dipasupil/Getty; Leon Bennett/WireImage</p> Richard Gere, left, and his Officer and a Gentleman co-star Louis Gossett Jr., right

Dia Dipasupil/Getty; Leon Bennett/WireImage

Richard Gere, left, and his Officer and a Gentleman co-star Louis Gossett Jr., right

Richard Gere is paying tribute to his Officer and a Gentleman costar Louis Gossett Jr. after his death at age 87.

Gossett portrayed Gunnery Sergeant Emil Foley, a drill instructor who served over Gere’s character Zack Mayo in the 1982 film. The film earned Gossett an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor — making him the first Black performer to win the Supporting Actor Oscar.

In a statement, obtained by PEOPLE, Gere remembers his costar as “a sweetheart” who “took his job very seriously” and “did his research.”

“He stayed in character the whole time,” Gere, 74, recalls. “I don't think we ever saw him socially. He was the drill sergeant 24 hours a day, and it showed clearly in his performance. He drove every scene he was in.”

Gere also describes Gossett as “a tough guy with a heart of gold,” adding, “We were all so proud of him when he won his Oscar.” He also offers “condolences to his family.”

<p>Dia Dipasupil/Getty; Leon Bennett/WireImage</p> Richard Gere, left, and his Officer and a Gentleman co-star Louis Gossett Jr., right

Dia Dipasupil/Getty; Leon Bennett/WireImage

Richard Gere, left, and his Officer and a Gentleman co-star Louis Gossett Jr., right

Related: A Look at Louis Gossett Jr.'s Incredible Life in Photos

Director Taylor Hackford also says in a statement that he “admired” Gossett’s stage work, and “hired him on the spot” after learning he’d previously served as a U.S. Army Ranger.

“Lou Gossett’s Sargent Foley may have been the first Black character in American cinema to have absolute authority over white characters,” Hackford, 79, says. “The Academy recognized his consummate performance by voting him an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.  He definitely deserved it.”

<p>Evan Agostini/Getty</p> Louis Gossett Jr., left, and Richard Gere, right, pose together at the American Museum Of The Moving Image Salute To Richard Gere at The Waldorf-Astoria Hotel April 20, 2004

Evan Agostini/Getty

Louis Gossett Jr., left, and Richard Gere, right, pose together at the American Museum Of The Moving Image Salute To Richard Gere at The Waldorf-Astoria Hotel April 20, 2004

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Gossett’s character was originally “written as a White man,” but Hackford says that changed after the director visited the Navy Officers Flight Training Center in Pensacola, Fla., where he learned “many of the Drill Instructors there were men of color.”

“I found it interesting that Black & Brown enlisted men had ‘make-or-break’ control over whether white college graduates would become officers and fighter pilots,” Hackford explains. “At that moment I changed the casting profile for Sargent Foley and started meeting actors of color.”

<p>Paramount/Kobal/Shutterstock</p> Louis Gossett Jr., left, and Richard Gere, right, in the 1982 film An Officer and A Gentleman

Paramount/Kobal/Shutterstock

Louis Gossett Jr., left, and Richard Gere, right, in the 1982 film An Officer and A Gentleman

Related: Louis Gossett Jr. Almost Played for the New York Knicks — Here’s Why He Turned the Gig Down (Exclusive)

Gossett's family confirmed the actor’s death in a statement obtained by PEOPLE Friday, and asked that people “please respect the family's privacy during this difficult time."

The Associated Press was first to report news of Gossett's death. The actor's nephew told the outlet that he died Thursday night in Santa Monica, California. No cause of death has yet been revealed.

"We would like to thank everyone for their condolences,” the family said in its statement.

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