Richard Roundtree, a pioneer in the Blaxploitation cinema genre and best remembered for his role in the “Shaft” franchise, has died. He was 81 years old at the time.
Patrick McMinn, his longtime manager, revealed to Variety that he died as a result of pancreatic cancer. He died in his Los Angeles home, surrounded by his family. “Richard’s work and career served as a turning point for African American leading men in film,” McMinn said in a statement. “The impact he had on the industry cannot be overstated.” Artists & Representatives, Roundtree’s agency, also issued a statement: “Artists & Representatives Agency mourns the loss of our friend and client Richard Roundtree,” they said. “His trailblazing career changed the face of entertainment around the globe and his enduring legacy will be felt for generations to come. Our hearts are with his family and loved ones during this difficult time.”
Roundtree has had an incalculable impact on the cinema business, having been dubbed “the first Black action hero” for his performance as private detective John Shaft. He’s also had a varied career, with prominent performances in “Earthquake,” “Roots,” and “Generations.” Fans and fellow actors are grieved by the loss of a celebrity, and many have taken to social media to voice their condolences.
Tributes to the beloved actor have poured in.
Fans and colleagues in the industry paid heartfelt tributes to Richard Roundtree’s legacy. “Working with Richard Roundtree was a dream,” actor Gabrielle Union, who played his daughter in “Being Mary Jane,” tweeted. Hanging out with him and our ‘Being Mary Jane’ family was always a blast, with the best stories and laughs. People would practically race over to see him because he was always the coolest man in the room with the best vibes. He was the best, and we all adored him.” Loni Love acknowledged his significance, writing, “He was fabulous as John Shaft at a time when there were few leading Black men in film.” He made being a detective glamorous and cool.”
Roundtree received an outpour of heartfelt messages from fans as well, with one noting: “R.I.P. Richard Roundtree. It sounds dismissive to simply say “He was Shaft”, but man, that’s more than enough. Shaft is the coolest anyone’s ever been on screen.” Another wrote: “Dappered and cool for decades. If there is one thing I’ll remember about Richard Roundtree, it’s that he stayed clean.”
Of course, Roundtree is more than simply private investigator John Shaft. Despite the fact that he was permanently identified with the character, he looked unconcerned. “I constantly deal with being called Shaft,” he told the Kunhardt Film Foundation. “And it never ceases to blow me away with the impact that character had on my life and my fans’ lives.”