Terry Morrow: Adversity drove actor Cylk Cozart to give back to Knoxville

Cylk Cozart is proud of the Lifetime Achievement Award he received from the Urban League of Knoxville.

Cylk Cozart is proud of the Lifetime Achievement Award he received from the Urban League of Knoxville.

Knoxville native and busy actor Cylk Cozart couldn't be any happier to win the Urban League of Knoxville's Lifetime Achievement Award recently — unless he was his mother.

"I don't know what excited me more: Everything leading up to the (award) or looking out and seeing my mother (in the audience) at the event," Cozart said of the evening.

Literally from the moment he was born, Bettie Ruth Cozart and her son didn't have it easy. When giving birth, she was in a coma for a day.

"When I dedicated the award to her, it was for everything she had been through," he said. "It was very tough for her."

Born and raised in Knoxville, Cozart is just as well known for his show business career as his philanthropic work.

He has had more than 30 movie and 20 television roles under his belt. Cozart's co-stars have included Bruce Willis ("16 Blocks"), Woody Harrelson ("White Men Can't Jump"), Shia LaBeouf ("Eagle Eye") and Mel Gibson ("Conspiracy Theory").

Being given the honor at age 55 was stunning for Cozart, too.

"I thought: 'A Lifetime Achievement Award is something they give you once you're already gone.' I didn't think I was so deserving of it, and, still, so many other people have done great things," Cozart said during a recent interview at the Oliver Hotel downtown. "My second thought was: 'What a wonderful acknowledgement.'

"Sometimes when you're doing things you enjoy doing, you're not cognizant of what you're doing until somebody says, 'Hey, by the way, thank you for doing this.'"

His films have been products from Steven Spielberg and Richard Donner.

In 1994, Cozart worked with Louis Gossett Jr. when both were in the movie "Blue Chips." Oddly enough, they didn't have scenes together and got to know each once the movie finished. Ever since, they've been close pals.

Gossett came to Knoxville last week to attend the Urban League gala in which Cozart was honored. The two also had time to share a meal at Calhoun's on the River during Gossett's time in town.

"Just having him there was such an honor," Cozart said.

Also attending was Cozart's friend, Martin Luther King III, son of the iconic civil rights leader. They met when the two worked on a benefit to aid children whose parents had abused them. "I couldn't believe he dropped everything he was doing — in the middle of a campaign season — to come here on a Thursday to see me get this award," Cozart said.

"It was surreal just to see my name in the program anywhere near (Gossett and King). It was like a dream or something.

"To be on a stage with them was surreal. It was a blur. I play it back in my mind like it was a play unfolding."

Garnering the Lifetime Achievement Award was highly personal for Cozart. In 2011, an earthquake in Los Angeles took away just about every possession he had, including those of sentimental value such as sports trophies.

His dreams were hardly shaken by the incident.

In recent years, Cozart has moved back to his hometown and wants to make a difference through his celebrity and its connections.

He is behind an organization called Keeping Dreams Alive, which is designed to mentor students and connect them with scholarships.

In his career, he's also eager to direct more and get a major production company off the ground in the Knoxville area.

"We want dreams to be a reality, and the only way that can happen is if you start early and stick with it," Cozart said.

Terry Morrow may be reached at 342-6445 or morrowt@knoxville.com.

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