Richard Roundtree, the star of Shaft who was an icon of the Blaxploitation movement, has died in his Los Angeles home of pancreatic cancer. He was 81.
Roundtree was born in 1942 in Rochelle, New York, to parents John, a caterer and rubbish collector, and Kathryn, a maid and nurse.
He left Southern Illinois University when he chose to become a model and before long moved to New York City where he joined the Negro Ensemble Company.
Roundtree was acting in a play when he auditioned for Shaft, eventually landing the iconic role as the private detective hired to find a crime lord’s missing daughter in Gordon Parks’ 1971 crime drama for MGM.
The role turned heads, being a rare Black lead where the character was in control of his own destiny.
The roles never stopped coming after that. Roundtree acted in two Shaft sequels, Shaft’s Big Score and Shaft in Africa, and a serialised version which he later said he regretted.
Feature roles included 1974’s Earthquake, 1975’s Man Friday opposite Peter O’Toole’s Robinson Crusoe, 1982’s Q – The Winged Serpent, and more recently the late John Singleton’s 2000 revival starring Samuel L. Jackson, and a comedic take on the property in Tim Story’s 2019 remake.
Roundtree was married twice and is survived by his daughters Nicole, Tayler, Morgan and Kelli Roundtree, and son James.
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