Renowned Hollywood figure Richard Roundtree, who played John Shaft in the first “Shaft” film in 1971, has passed away at 81 after battling cancer.
His passing has been confirmed by Patrick McMinn, the manager of McMinn Management and Artists & Representatives Agency, in an official statement. McMinn revealed that the actor had succumbed to pancreatic cancer on Tuesday afternoon, with his family by his side.
We express our deepest condolences for the passing of Richard Roundtree, a cherished friend and esteemed client, at Artists & Representatives Agency. It is with heavy hearts that we remember him.
While it is important to note that his demise was not attributed to breast cancer, it is worth mentioning that Roundtree was a renowned survivor of this disease. In 1993, he received a diagnosis and valiantly fought against it, becoming a strong advocate for raising awareness about breast cancer among men. His unwavering commitment to this cause will forever be remembered.
Roundtree, a native of New Rochelle, New York, commenced his journey by excelling in football at Southern Illinois University. Additionally, he ventured into the realm of modeling, as stated in his IMDB biography. However, his true passion lay in the theatrical arts, leading him to become a member of New York’s esteemed Negro Ensemble Company. Subsequently, he showcased his talent by portraying the iconic character of Jack Johnson in the off-Broadway production of “The Great White Hope.” It was during this time that the opportunity to portray the renowned character of John Shaft materialized, as detailed in his biography.
The 1971 film, helmed by the renowned Gordon Parks, garnered prestigious accolades including Oscars for Best Music and Original Song, recognizing Isaac Hayes’ eponymous hit and his other remarkable compositions. The portrayal of John Shaft, the private detective described as “hotter than Bond, cooler than Bullitt,” not only transformed Roundtree’s career but also revolutionized Hollywood by presenting him as an unapologetic protagonist and an underground crime fighter.
According to the University of Maryland, Baltimore County’s Online Film Festival, “Shaft” was a groundbreaking film that introduced the African American action hero to mainstream cinema. Prior to this, action-hero roles were typically reserved for white actors. The film’s success paved the way for a brief surge of major studio films featuring strong Black protagonists in Hollywood. Additionally, it opened up numerous acting opportunities for Roundtree, who became a familiar face on the big screen.
Roundtree has an extensive repertoire and notable contributions to the TV industry, including successful shows like “CHiPs,” “Magnum P.I.,” “Desperate Housewives,” “Grey’s Anatomy,” and “Chicago Fire.” He has also appeared in action films from the 1980s and 1990s, such as “Original Gangstas.” Roundtree has portrayed various characters in recent “Shaft” films with Samuel L. Jackson and received a Peabody Award for his narration in the PBS documentary “The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow” in 2002.
Cheo Coker, creator of “Luke Cage,” praised the iconic figure for his powerful physique and intellectual prowess, calling him his ultimate hero and inspiration. The individual’s impact on the entertainment industry was global and will resonate for generations. McMinn also acknowledged his enduring legacy and influence on shaping the entertainment landscape.