Richard Roundtree, known for playing the lead role in 1971’s Shaft has died in Los Angeles after his diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. He was 81.
The rugged all-action Roundtree shot to fame with Blaxploitation classic Shaft as a private detective in Harlem. He reprised the role in several sequels and a short-lived TV series.
“His trailblazing career changed the face of entertainment around the globe and his enduring legacy will be felt for generations to come. Our hearts are with his family and loved ones during this difficult time,” Artists & Representatives, the agency that represented the late actor, said in a statement to Deadline.
The streetwise John Shaft strutting on the streets to the timeless theme from Isaac Hayes, helped define cool for Black leading men leading to wider acceptance in the 1970’s.
Throughout his more than four decade career in Hollywood, Roundtree played a plethora of roles in films and tv including 1977’s enduring iconic show Roots and 1974’s Earthquake as he played the motorcycle daredevil Miles.
Among his more poignant films was 1996’s Once Upon a Time … When We Were Colored, telling the story of a black community confronting the racism of post-war Mississippi.
Roundtree worked regularly until the end, with 159 acting credits to his name plus three upcoming projects yet to be released, according to IMDB.com.
Roundtree was born in New Rochelle, New York, in 1942. He went to Southern Illinois University in the early 1960s on a football scholarship, but left and in 1967 he joined the Negro Ensemble Company to begin his life as an actor, according to the Hollywood Reporter.