As early as 1963, Richard Roundtree was already making headlines as a model for the annual Ebony Traveling Fashion Fair, an event he helped launch along with the wife of the owner of Ebony and Jet Magazines. In the original “Shaft” film from 1971 and its two sequels, he played the role of John Shaft, a private investigator. His sudden death at age 81 as an actor is sad news.
Longtime manager Patrick McMinn told The Hollywood Reporter that the beloved actor died of pancreatic cancer at home. After discovering she had breast cancer in 1993, Roundtree opted for a double mastectomy. A few years later, he spoke out about this disease.
Breast cancer is not “gender specific,” Roundtree said in his discussion about surviving the disease. He appreciated the “positive feedback” he got after making his illness public. Moreover, he cautioned that “men have [a] cavalier attitude about health issues.”
The rise of “blaxploitation” movies, which were directed by white filmmakers and starred black actors and actresses, may be directly attributed to Roundtree. Shaft, one of the earliest of these movies, was released in 1971. Even though he kept performing for another 50 years after his role made him famous at age 29, he became a household name at that age.
John Shaft, the protagonist of the films, was a tough private eye with a dark mustache and a pearl-handled revolver. He was a black man who knew his way around the streets. During an interview with The New York Times in 1973, Roundtree remarked on the opportunity to portray a “black man who [was] for once — a winner.”
Both “Shaft’s Big Score!” (1971) and “Shaft in Africa” (1973) were sequels to the original film, with Roundtree reprising his role as the title character. He also appeared in two sequels to the original film in which Samuel L. Jackson as John Shaft. The franchise has also spawned a number of TV movies.
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. 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… pic.twitter.com/1N8fHVDsA6— Gabrielle Union (@itsgabrielleu) October 25, 2023
The Black Entertainment Television star Gabrielle Union, who co-starred with Roundtree on “Being Mary Jane,” paid tribute to him on his X/Twitter profile. To have worked with such a renowned performer, she remarked, “was a dream.” Also, she said that Roundtree was “ALWAYS” the “coolest man in the room.”