Richard Roundtree, known for his revolutionary work in action films like the Shaft franchise, has died. He was 81.
According to The Associated Press, Patrick McMinn, his manager of many years, confirmed that the actor had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and succumbed to the disease in his Los Angeles home on Tuesday. He was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1993 and underwent a double mastectomy.
“Richard’s work and career served as a turning point for African American leading men,” McMinn said. “The impact he had on the industry cannot be overstated.”
Many think of Roundtree as the first Black action hero and a leader in the blaxploitation genre, earning that status by portraying New York hustler John Shaft in the first Shaft film in 1971. The movie, directed by Gordon Parks, was then-28-year-old Roundtree’s first feature film. Before starring in Shaft, the actor was a New York City model.
After the success of Shaft, which popularized one-liners like “It’s my duty to please that booty,” Roundtree went on to star in its sequels: Shaft’s Big Score in 1972 and Shaft in Africa in 1973. The same year, he reprised his role on the CBS television series Shaft, though it only lasted seven episodes.
Roundtree returned to the Shaft universe in 2000, appearing in a revival that starred Samuel L. Jackson as John Shaft’s nephew. He also appeared in the 2019 second remake and sequel to the 2000 film and original Shaft alongside Jackson.
In a social media post paying tribute to the late actor, Jackson said Roundtree was the “prototype” and the “best to ever do it.”
“SHAFT, as we know it is & will always be his Creation,” he wrote in the caption. “His passing leaves a deep hole not only in my heart, but I’m sure a lotta y’all’s, too.”
Roundtree appeared in several other films throughout his career of 50-plus years, including Earthquake, Man Friday, Roots, Maniac Cop, Se7en, and many others.
His last major roles include television’s Being Mary Jane, Star, Cherish the Day and Family Reunion.
His final film role was in Moving On, which also starred Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda.