Richard Roundtree, a US actor best known for his starring role in the Shaft film franchise, has died aged 81. He died at home in Los Angeles on Tuesday afternoon with his family by his side, his manager Patrick McMinn told The Hollywood Reporter.
His death comes after a short battle with pancreatic cancer. “Richard’s work and career served as a turning point for African American leading men in film. The impact he had on the industry cannot be overstated,” McMinn said in a statement.
Born on 9 July, 1942 in New Rochelle, New York, Roundtree began his acting career in the early 1960s. He was seen as a ground-breaking actor with his portrayal of detective John Shaft, which made him a star at the age of 29.
The 1970s movie franchise was iconic as it was among the first of what came to be known as Blaxploitation films, a genre featuring action movies that centred on heroic black characters, BBC reports.
Roundtree also appeared in a number of movies and TV series, which include the films Inchon and Seven as well as the television series Roots, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Desperate Housewives.
Samuel. L. Jackson, who appeared in the 2000 Shaft reboot as well as a 2019 instalment of the franchise with Roundtree, described the late actor as “the prototype, the best to ever do it”.
“His passing leaves a deep hole not only in my heart, but I’m sure a lotta y’all’s, too,” Jackson wrote on Instagram.
“Love you Brother, I see you walking down the Middle Street in Heaven & Isaac’s Conducting your song,” he added, referring to Shaft’s famous theme song which won an Oscar for best original music.
Roundtree was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1993 and underwent a double mastectomy. He is survived by four daughters – Kelli, Nicole, Taylor, Morgan – his son John, and at least one grandchild, according to the New York Times.