American action star Richard Roundtree, known for his role in the Shaft series of films, passed away at the age of 81.
AP reported that Roundtree’s longtime manager, Patrick McMinn, said “the actor had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and died at his home in Los Angeles on Tuesday. He was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1993 and underwent a double mastectomy.”
“Richard’s work and career served as a turning point for African American leading men,” McMinn said. “The impact he had on the industry cannot be overstated.”
Roundtree’s career took to new heights as the original actor in the role of John Shaft in the 1971 film directed by Gordon Parks, which helped to popularize the blaxploitation genre. It was the first feature film role for the 28-year-old New Yorker, after he ventured into modelling.
The film’s theme song, Shaft, by Isaac Hayes, helped to propel the film and became the soundtrack to the 70s, still conjuring images of the afro-sporting, moustachioed Shaft clad in his black leather jacket and bell bottoms leapt into action in a chase scene across the grittier part of town. The song defined the times and popularized the genre even more with lyrics like: “You a bad mother— (Shut your mouth).”
The actor played Shaft in the sequel Shaft’s Big Score the following year and Shaft in Africa in 1973. There was also the CBS television series, simply called Shaft that ran for only seven episodes in 1973.
Roundtree would play the same streetwise detective in the 2000 production of Shaft, which starred Samuel L. Jackson. He played Jackson’s uncle in the film and would do it again in the 2019 production of the same name, with both men in the same roles. The 2019 release of the film starred Jessie T. Usher.
Over the years he appeared in films such as the epic film Roots, Earthquake, Man Friday, with Peter O’Toole, Maniac Cop, Se7ev, and more recently What Men Want, starring Taraji P. Henson, released in 2019 and Moving On, starring alongside Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, and Malcolm McDowell, which was released in March of this year. In the film, Fonda’s character reunites with the great love of her life, played by Roundtree.
He’s also had memorable roles on television in Magnum P.I., The Love Boat, and audiences seem to have an affinity for him in Being Mary Jane.
Roundtree received a lifetime achievement award at the MTV Movie & TV awards in 1995.