At that time, however, I had a long way to go before I created that vacant space inside my soul. Instead, my devils were enlarged, and I felt enormous guilt and resentment over the way things had turned out. Whenever that sad reality hit me, I called the dealer and got high and was ready to give it all up. But then I asked myself, "What am I doing?" and put away the stuff and got back into the fray.
Suddenly and unexpectedly, all of my sadness disappeared, and my world seemed filled with nothing but promise and redemption the moment Ed Bondy called to tell me of my Academy Award nomination for Best Actor in a Supporting Role for "An Officer and a Gentleman." It felt like a huge vote of confidence from my peers for a performance they could not ignore. Actually winning the Oscar, although I'd already won the People's Choice Award and a Golden Globe for the role, was a shock. As I sat with nine-year-old Satie, looking handsome in his tuxedo, and Ed, who was showing signs of his age but was still vital and, as always, in my corner, I didn't have a speech ready. Stunned, I glanced at the two of them as I heard my name read by Susan Sarandon and Christopher Reeve. I'd been certain that James Mason ("The Verdict") or Robert Preston ("Victor, Victoria"), both of whom were in poor health, would take the award for their stunning performances. It was a glorious effort to walk up to the stage and thank my parents, my grandmother, my cousin Yvonne Trenchard, and Ed from the depths of my heart and soul.
More than anything, it was a huge affirmation of my position as a black actor. After all, I was the first African American man to receive an Academy Award. Sidney Poitier had won earlier for Best Actor for "Lilies of the Field," but although he'd been born in Florida while his mother was on a shopping trip, he was still considered a Bahamian, thus not an African American. Hattie McDaniel was the first African American woman to win an Academy Award in 1940, for her role as Mammy in "Gone with the Wind." I was once told that Hattie had to come through the kitchen of the Waldorf Astoria to a small table in the corner of the ballroom where she could receive her award. We'd come a long way in forty-three years. We didn't have to come through the kitchen anymore.