Richard Roundtree: Shaft star dies aged 81 as celebrities such as Samuel L Jackson pay tribute to actor
Richard Roundtree, who rose to fame in his role of detective John Shaft in 1971 film 'Shaft', has died aged 81
Actor Richard Roundtree, who rose to fame for his starring role in the 1971 detective thriller 'Shaft', has died aged 81, his manager has confirmed.
His passing came after it was reported that he was battling with a pancreatic cancer diagnosis. Patrick McMinn, Roundtree's manager, said in a statement: “Richard’s work and career served as a turning point for African American leading men in film. The impact he had on the industry cannot be overstated.”
'Shaft', spearheaded by Roundtree's performance and an iconic Oscar-winning theme tune, is one of the most recognisable films from the 1970s Blaxploitation genre, which aimed movies made by black crews at black audiences. Two more films - 'Shaft's Big Score' and 'Shaft In Africa' in 1972 and 1973 receptively - before he reprised the role alongside Samuel L Jackson in a 2000 'Shaft' revival film, with Jackson playing John Shaft's nephew. Roundtree's last appearance as Shaft came in a 2019 Netflix offering.
Jackson wrote in tribute of Roundtree on Instagram. He said: "Richard Roundtree, The Prototype, The Best To Ever Do It!! SHAFT, as we know it is & will always be His Creation!! His passing leaves a deep hole not only in my heart, but I’m sure a lotta y’all’s, too."
Other tributes came from the world of television and film. Abbot Elementary star Sheryl Lee Ralph said: “When I was a teenager I used to dream about growing up to meet Richard Roundtree. I did and what a wonderful human being.”
His other Shaft co-star Jeffery Wright tweeted: "The OG. And a lovely man. RIP". Comedian Loni Love added: “Sad to hear of the passing of Richard Roundtree.. He was fabulous as John Shaft at a time when there were few leading Black men in film. He put the sexy and cool in being a detective. Rest well. Condolences to his family."
Roundtree was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 1993 before his recent pancreatic cancer diagnosis, and underwent a double mastectomy and chemotherapy. He spoke of his diagnosis, saying: “Breast cancer is not gender specific. And men have this cavalier attitude about health issues. I got such positive feedback because I spoke out about it, and it’s been quite a number of years now. I’m a survivor.”
Roundtree also appeared in landmark US television series 'Roots', and US soap opera 'Generations'. He was married twice throughout his life, and is survived by his five children - four daughters and a son.