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Shaft Star Richard Roundtree Dead at 81

Richard Roundtree broke out with the role of New York private eye John Shaft in 1971’s Shaft.

By Dave Nemetz

Richard Roundtree, who played the iconic lead character in the 1971 movie Shaft and its sequels, has died at the age of 81. The actor passed away on Tuesday “after a brief battle with pancreatic cancer with his family at his bedside,” per our sister site Deadline.

“Artists & Representatives Agency mourns the loss of our friend and client Richard Roundtree,” the actor’s 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.”

After starting his career as a stage actor and model, Roundtree broke out with the role of New York private eye John Shaft in 1971’s Shaft, which became a milestone in blaxploitation cinema and turned Roundtree into one of Hollywood’s first Black action heroes. Roundtree reprised the role in two sequels: 1972’s Shaft’s Big Score and 1973’s Shaft in Africa. He also made a cameo in the 2000 remake starring Samuel L. Jackson and its 2019 sequel.

Roundtree had a long career on the small screen as well, playing slave Sam Bennett in the 1977 hit miniseries Roots. He later made appearances on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Alias, Desperate Housewives and Heroes and was a series regular on the Fox drama 413 Hope St.

In recent years, he played Gabrielle Union’s father on Being Mary Jane and Boden’s father on Chicago Fire. His most recent TV credits are OWN’s Cherish the Day and Netflix’s Family Reunion.