Richard Roundtree, an icon of Blaxploitation film who starred as detective John Shaft in Gordon Parks’ 1971 action thriller, died Tuesday afternoon after a short battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 81 years old.
Roundtree was a leading man from the very start of his lifetime in screen acting. After beginning his career in modeling, he secured “Shaft” at the age of 28, marking his feature debut. The MGM release earned $12 million in ticket sales off of a $500,000 production budget, helping to save the studio from bankruptcy.
A breakthrough hit, “Shaft” set the tone for a prolific decade of Blaxploitation filmmaking and demonstrated Hollywood’s historical failure to consider Black talent and the moviegoing audiences that they could reach.
The Associated Press reports:
Roundtree reprised his role in the 2000 “Shaft” film, a revival that starred Samuel L. Jackson. He appeared as Jackson’s uncle in the big-budget film that was aimed at the general audience. Both appeared again in the same roles in the 2019 film starring Jessie T. Usher.
Through his 50-plus year career, Roundtree appeared in a number other notable films including “Earthquake,” “Man Friday” with Peter O’Toole, “Roots,” “Maniac Cop” “Se7en” and “What Men Want” starring Taraji P. Henson.
He also made his mark with television roles on “Magnum P.I.,” “The Love Boat,” “Being Mary Jane” and “The Love Boat.” In 1995, Roundtree received a lifetime achievement award at the MTV Movie & TV awards.
“Theme From Shaft” won the Oscar that year.
Richard Roundtree, the trailblazing Black actor who starred as the ultra-smooth private detective “Shaft” in several films beginning in the early 1970s, has died. He was 81. https://t.co/CUqCwyOL1W
— The Denver Post (@denverpost) October 25, 2023