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Richard Roundtree “John Shaft” Has Died At Age 81

Written by on October 25, 2023

Richard Roundtree who portrayal of private eye John Shaft died Tuesday. He was 81. Roundtree died at his home in Los Angeles of pancreatic cancer, his manager, Patrick McMinn, told The Hollywood Reporter.

Dubbed the first Black action hero, Roundtree became one of the faces of the 1970s blaxploitation movement when he starred as the street-smart New York sleuth in Shaft (1971), directed by Gordon Parks. Apart from a brief turn in the 1970 comedy What Do You Say to a Naked Lady?, it marked his first big-screen appearance. Based on a 1970 novel by Ernest Tidyman, Shaft was originally conceived to be fronted by a white actor. It was Parks who insisted on casting Roundtree, a former model, after spotting him during a cattle call.

On the 1977 groundbreaking ABC miniseries Roots, Roundtree took on the pivotal role of carriage driver Sam Bennett, who falls for Leslie Uggams’ Kizzy. (He said George Hamilton apologized to him for years for the scene that required Hamilton’s character, a slave owner, to whip Bennett.)

Roundtree also portrayed the title character opposite Peter O’Toole as Robinson Crusoe in Man Friday, was featured as an army sergeant opposite Laurence Olivier as Gen. Douglas MacArthur in the Korean War drama Inchon (1981), and played Burt Reynolds‘ partner in a private-eye business in City Heat (1984).

Roundtree once revealed that he was most proud of his work in Once Upon a Time … When We Were Colored (1996) about a Black Mississippi family confronting inequality in the south. His father, who had become a Pentecostal minister, had refused to see any of his son’s movies until this one.

He was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1993 and had a double mastectomy. “Breast cancer is not gender specific,” he said four years later. “And men have this cavalier attitude about health issues. I got such positive feedback because I spoke out about it, and it’s been quite a number of years now. I’m a survivor.”

Source: Hollywood Reporter



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