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Richard Roundtree, Iconic ‘Shaft’ Actor, Passes Away at 81

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Renowned for his groundbreaking portrayal of the iconic detective John Shaft in the 1971 film “Shaft,” Richard Roundtree has passed away at the age of 81 after a battle with pancreatic cancer, according to his manager, Patrick McMinn. Diagnosed just two months ago, Roundtree spent his final moments at his Los Angeles residence, surrounded by his family.

Richard Roundtree’s indelible mark on cinema history came as he brought the character of John Shaft to life. The 1971 release of Shaft marked the birth of one of the first Black action heroes in Hollywood, earning Roundtree recognition and accolades. His stellar performance in the film even garnered him a nomination for New Star of the Year at the Golden Globe Awards.

Roundtree’s association with the ‘Shaft’ franchise extended beyond the original film, as he reprised the role in its sequels, “Shaft’s Big Score!” (1972) and “Shaft in Africa” (1973). Notably, he also played the lead in the 1973 ‘Shaft’ TV series, solidifying his status as the face of the franchise. When the ‘Shaft’ series received a reboot in 2000, Roundtree returned as John Shaft alongside Samuel L. Jackson, who portrayed Shaft’s nephew. He continued to embody this iconic character in the 2019 version.

Richard Roundtree’s contributions to the world of entertainment expanded beyond ‘Shaft.’ He played a significant role in the renowned “Roots” miniseries, portraying the character of Sam Bennett. More recently, he appeared as Gabrielle Union’s father in the drama series “Being Mary Jane,” a collaboration that Union cherished and remembered as a dream experience.

His impact on the industry transcended his iconic role, and Roundtree continued to take on a diverse range of characters in various films and television series. His talents graced productions like “Earthquake” (1974), “Man Friday” (1975), “Inchon” (1981), and “City Heat” (1984),showcasing his versatility as an actor.

Despite the passing of years, Richard Roundtree’s career remained dynamic, with appearances in multiple TV series, including “Heroes,” “Being Mary Jane,” and “Family Reunion.” His filmography also expanded, with roles in a myriad of television movies and feature films.

In 2020, Roundtree captivated audiences as a grizzled captain in the supernatural maritime mystery “Haunting of the Mary Celeste.” He continued to enthrall viewers in 2022 as a regular in the second season of Ava DuVernay’s romantic drama series, “Cherish the Day.” Richard Roundtree’s personal life was marked by two marriages and several children, leaving behind a legacy that extends beyond his influential career.

The ‘Shaft’ character, created by Ernest Tidyman, has endured over the years, making its way through Hollywood adaptations and reincarnations. Samuel L. Jackson carried the mantle in a 2000 sequel and a 2019 release, with Roundtree making appearances in both versions. Richard Roundtree’s contributions to film and television have left an indelible mark, and his portrayal of the charismatic detective John Shaft will forever be celebrated in cinema history.

Written by
Derek Chan – Editor

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