‘Shaft’ Star Richard Roundtree Dead at 81; Samuel L. Jackson, Gabrielle Union and More Pay Tribute

Richard Roundtree

Richard Roundtree — seen here in a 1971 portrait — was best known for his leading role in the 'Shaft' films of the 1970s. His film and TV credits, however, also included more serious roles that dealt with race relations in America. Photo: Everett Collection/Canadian Press

Richard Roundtree, a trailblazing Black actor who played the private eye John Shaft in the “Shaft” films of the 1970s and also took on dramatic roles dealing with race relations in America, died on Tuesday aged 81, the Hollywood Reporter said, citing his manager.

Roundtree died at his home in Los Angeles of pancreatic cancer, the Reporter said, citing his manager, Patrick McMinn. Roundtree‘s representatives did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for confirmation.

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, according to Variety, another show business trade publication.

Roundtree shot to fame with the 1971 Blaxploitation movie Shaft about a private detective in the Harlem section of New York, and he reprised the role in a number of sequels and a short-lived network TV series.

The rugged and streetwise character, who wore flashy leather jackets and who was accompanied by a catchy theme song from Isaac Hayes, helped define cool for a Black leading man and also gained acceptance from white audiences.

Richard Roundtree
Richard Roundtree arrives at the gala presentation of Moving On at last year’s TIFF. Roundtree appeared in the 2022 comedy, which starred Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda.  Photo: Mark Blinch/File Photo/Reuters


Roundtree also had a role in the groundbreaking ABC television slavery drama Roots in 1977 and other prominent projects of the era, playing motorcycle daredevil Miles in 1974’s Earthquake.

Among his more poignant films was 1996’s Once Upon a Time … When We Were Colored, the story of a tight-knit Black community confronting the racism of post-war Mississippi.

He also played opposite Peter O’Toole’s Robinson Crusoe in Man Friday in 1975 and alongside Laurence Olivier’s depiction of General Douglas MacArthur in 1981’s Inchon.

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.

He was married twice and is survived by four daughters — Nicole, Tayler, Morgan and Kelli Roundtree — and his son, James, Variety said.

(Reporting by Daniel Trotta; editing by Miral Fahmy)


Tributes Pour In


Following news of Roundtree’s passing, a number of former co-stars and famous admirers took to social media to pay tribute to the late actor.