'Shaft' star Richard Roundtree dead at 81

October 26, 2023

"Shaft" star Richard Roundtree has died at the age of 81, according to his agency.

Roundtree passed away Monday following a battle with pancreatic cancer.

The statement

“Artists & Representatives Agency mourns the loss of our friend and client Richard Roundtree,” the agency said in a statement.

“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," it added.

A groundbreaking film

"Roundtree made his name in Hollywood with Shaft, a 1971 blaxploitation classic about a smooth-talking detective who must rescue his kidnapped daughter from the mob," Vulture reported.

"The film spawned multiple sequels and a TV franchise. Roundtree reprised his role in a number of them," it continued.

Changing culture

"The MGM release earned $12 million in ticket sales off of a $500,000 production budget, helping to save the studio from bankruptcy," Variety reported.

"A breakthrough hit, 'Shaft' set the tone for a prolific decade of Blaxploitation filmmaking and demonstrated Hollywood’s historical failure to consider Black talent and the moviegoing audiences that they could reach," it noted.

In addition to his role as Shaft, Roundtree appeared in later films such as "Brick" and "Speed Racer," among others.

Born on July 9, 1942, in New Rochelle, New York, Roundtree's father, John, was a garbage collector and caterer, while his mother, Kathryn, worked as a maid and nurse. He attended New Rochelle High School and was part of its undefeated football team, according to the Hollywood Reporter.

After graduating in 1961, he went on to Southern Illinois University on a football scholarship but opted for a modeling career in 1963. Eunice W. Johnson hired him to feature in the Ebony Fashion Fair, and he also appeared in print ads for Salem cigarettes and Duke hair products.

Roundtree was married and divorced twice. He is survived by four daughters and one son, James. Roundtree's death marks the end of a life that changed culture through film, marking the start of a new genre of films that continues to impact many today.

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