Richard Roundtree, the actor who rose to fame as the iconic detective John Shaft in the 1971 film Shaft and its sequels, has died at the age of 81.
Roundtree passed away on Tuesday (October 24) in Los Angeles after a battle with pancreatic cancer, his longtime manager Patrick McMinn confirmed. “Richard’s work and career served as a turning point for African American leading men in film,” McMinn said in a statement to CNN. “The impact he had on the industry cannot be overstated.”
Roundtree was born in New Rochelle, New York in 1942. He started his career as a model before joining the Negro Ensemble Company in 1967 to pursue acting. He made his film debut in 1970’s What Do You Say to a Naked Lady?.
His breakthrough role came a year later when he played John Shaft, a private eye who fights crime in Harlem, in Gordon Parks’ Shaft. The film was a box-office hit and spawned two sequels, Shaft’s Big Score! (1972) and Shaft in Africa (1973), as well as a short-lived TV series.
Roundtree reprised his role as Shaft in the 2000 remake, starring Samuel L. Jackson as his nephew, and again in the 2019 sequel, featuring Jessie T. Usher as his son. He also appeared in other films such as Earthquake (1974), Roots (1977), Seven (1995) and Speed Racer (2008), as well as TV shows such as The Love Boat, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Being Mary Jane and L.A.’s Finest.
Roundtree was also an advocate for breast cancer awareness, having survived the disease himself in 1993. He revealed his diagnosis in 2000 and became one of the first male celebrities to speak publicly about it. He participated in events and campaigns to raise funds and educate people about the disease.
Roundtree is survived by his three children and five grandchildren.
“Working with Richard Roundtree was a dream. Getting to hang with him & our Being Mary Jane family was always a good ass time with the best stories & laughs,” Gabrielle Union, who played his daughter on Being Mary Jane, tweeted.
“He was ALWAYS the coolest man in the room with the BEST vibes & ppl would literally run over to come see him. He was simply the best & we all loved him”, she added.