Richard Roundtree, the original ‘Shaft’ star, passes away at the age of 81

Hollywood legend Richard Roundtree, who famously portrayed John Shaft in the 1971 “Shaft” film, has passed away at the age of 81 following a courageous battle with cancer.

In a statement, Patrick McMinn, Roundtree’s manager from McMinn Management and Artists & Representatives Agency, confirmed that the actor had passed away. McMinn revealed that Roundtree had been battling pancreatic cancer and passed away on Tuesday afternoon.

McMinn stated that his family was present by his side.

“We are deeply saddened by the passing of our friend and client, Richard Roundtree,” expressed the Artists & Representatives Agency.

Despite not passing away from breast cancer, Roundtree was an esteemed survivor of the disease. In 1993, he was diagnosed and subsequently became an advocate for raising awareness around breast cancer in men.

According to his IMDb biography, Roundtree was born in New Rochelle, New York, and played football for Southern Illinois University. He also did some modeling during his career.

According to his bio, he developed a passion for theater and became a member of New York’s prestigious Negro Ensemble Company. He later played the role of Jack Johnson in the off-Broadway production of “The Great White Hope” before he was offered the part of John Shaft.

Gordon Parks’ iconic film, released in 1971, was a game-changer for the film industry. The movie, which earned Isaac Hayes an Academy Award for Best Original Song, introduced audiences to the unforgettable character of John Shaft. Richard Roundtree’s portrayal of the “hotter than Bond, cooler than Bullitt” private detective catapulted him to fame and forever altered the way Hollywood approached its lead characters. Shaft was unapologetic in his pursuit of justice and became a symbol of underground resistance against crime.

According to the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, “Shaft” brought the African American action hero into the spotlight of mainstream cinema. Prior to this film, action-hero roles were limited to white actors. This insight is highlighted in the university’s Online Film Festival analysis of “Shaft”.

Following the triumph of “Shaft,” Hollywood witnessed a brief yet significant surge in major studio films featuring powerful Black characters. This success opened up a multitude of acting opportunities for Roundtree, resulting in his frequent appearances on the big screen. It seemed as though his face was present on-screen in numerous movies during this time.

He has an impressive list of television credits, having worked on popular shows like “CHiPs,” “Magnum P.I.,” “Desperate Housewives,” “Grey’s Anatomy,” and “Chicago Fire.” Additionally, he has acted in numerous action films from the 80s and 90s, including “Original Gangstas.”

In the newer versions of “Shaft” starring Samuel L. Jackson, Roundtree took on the roles of relatives or older versions of himself.

In 2002, Roundtree’s narration of the PBS documentary “The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow” earned him a prestigious Peabody Award.

With his chiseled jawline and muscular build concealed beneath a turtleneck, he became the embodiment of Black masculinity, exuding a tough-guy persona that was balanced with intellect. He was a boxer who could hold his own in the ring and a man who could hold his own in a conversation.

On X, which was previously known as Twitter, Cheo Coker, the mastermind behind the Netflix superhero series “Luke Cage,” expressed his admiration for the famous personality by stating, “My hero. A significant source of inspiration for Luke Cage.”

According to McMinn, his innovative career transformed the entertainment industry internationally, and his lasting impact will be felt for many generations to come.

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