Richard Roundtree, the original Shaft, passes away at 81

Richard Roundtree

Richard Roundtree, the actor who played the iconic role of John Shaft in the 1971 film Shaft and its sequels, died on Tuesday at his home in Los Angeles. He was 81 years old and had been battling pancreatic cancer for a short time, according to his manager Patrick McMinn.

Richard Roundtree

A trailblazer for African American actors

Roundtree was born on July 9, 1942, in New Rochelle, New York. He started his acting career in the 1960s, appearing in off-Broadway plays and commercials. He rose to fame in 1971 when he was cast as John Shaft, a private detective who fights crime in Harlem, New York. The film Shaft was directed by Gordon Parks and written by Ernest Tidyman, based on his novel of the same name. The film was a huge success and spawned two sequels, Shaft’s Big Score (1972) and Shaft in Africa (1973), as well as a short-lived TV series.

Roundtree’s portrayal of Shaft was groundbreaking as it was one of the first examples of a Blaxploitation film, a genre that featured action movies with black protagonists who challenged the stereotypes and oppression of white society. Shaft was also praised for its soundtrack by Isaac Hayes, which won an Oscar for best original song. Roundtree’s Shaft became a cultural icon and influenced many other actors and filmmakers, such as Samuel L. Jackson, Quentin Tarantino, and Spike Lee.

A versatile and prolific career

Roundtree continued to act in various films and TV shows throughout his career. Some of his notable roles include Alex Haley’s uncle in the miniseries Roots (1977), a CIA agent in the war film Inchon (1981), a police captain in the thriller Seven (1995), and a boxing trainer in the comedy Boat Trip (2002). He also reprised his role as Shaft in three more films: the 2000 remake starring Samuel L. Jackson as his nephew, the 2019 sequel starring Jessie T. Usher as his son, and the 2020 Netflix film titled Shaft.

Roundtree also appeared in several TV shows, such as The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Beverly Hills 90210, Desperate Housewives, Being Mary Jane, and Chicago Fire. He received an NAACP Image Award nomination for his role as Dr. Daniel Reubens in the soap opera Generations (1989-1991). He also starred in several stage productions, such as The Great White Hope, Of Mice and Men, and A Soldier’s Play.

A survivor and an inspiration

Roundtree was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1993 and underwent a double mastectomy. He later became an advocate for men’s health and awareness of male breast cancer. He spoke openly about his experience and encouraged other men to get checked regularly. He also supported various charities and causes, such as the American Cancer Society, the Make-A-Wish Foundation, and the United Negro College Fund.

Roundtree is survived by his four daughters – Kelli, Nicole, Taylor, and Morgan – his son John, and at least one grandchild. His family and friends have expressed their grief and condolences on social media. Samuel L. Jackson posted a tribute on Instagram, calling Roundtree “the prototype” and “the best to ever do it”. He also wrote: “His passing leaves a deep hole not only in my heart but I’m sure a lotta y’all’s too. Love you Brother, I see you walking down the Middle Street in Heaven & Isaac’s Conducting your song.”

Roundtree will be remembered as a pioneer for African American cinema and a legend of Hollywood. His work and legacy will live on through his fans and admirers around the world.

By Kane Wilson

Kane Wilson, founder of this news website, is a seasoned news editor renowned for his analytical skills and meticulous approach to storytelling. His journey in journalism began as a local reporter, and he quickly climbed the ranks due to his talent for unearthing compelling stories. Kane completed his Master’s degree in Media Studies from Northwestern University and spent several years in broadcast journalism prior to co-founding this platform. His dedication to delivering unbiased news and ability to present complex issues in an easily digestible format make him an influential voice in the industry.

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