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‘Shaft’ Star Richard Roundtree Dead at 81


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Blaxploitation movie icon Richard Roundtree died after a short battle with pancreatic cancer on Tuesday, Oct. 24. He was 81.

Roundtree was best known as debonair detective John Shaft in Gordon Parks’ 1971 action thriller Shaft.

His death was confirmed in a statement to Variety by Patrick McMinn, his manager since 1987.

“Richard’s work and career served as a turning point for African American leading men in film,” McMinn said in his statement. “The impact he had on the industry cannot be overstated.”

LMPC via Getty Images

Roundtree got his big start in films after a career in modeling. He won the role in “Shaft” at the age of 28. The MGM motion picture earned $12 million at the box office with a $500,000 production budget, which helped to save the studio from bankruptcy.

Roundtree also starred in Shaft‘s four sequels, including Shaft’s Big Score (1972) and Shaft in Africa (1973). Additionally, he played the slave Sam Bennett in the 1977 television miniseries Roots.

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Roundtree and actor Fred Williamson (right) starred in the Blaxploitation movie One Down Two to Go, directed by Williamson in 1982.

In an interview with the New York Times in 2019, Roundtree had mixed feelings about the Blaxploitation era in the film industry.

Paul Archuleta/Getty Images

“I had the privilege of working with the classiest gentleman possibly that I’ve ever known in the industry, Gordon Parks. So, that word, exploitation, I take offense to with any attachment to Gordon Parks… I’ve always viewed that as a negative. Exploitation. Who’s being exploited?” Roundtree said.

He added: “But it gave a lot of people work. It gave a lot of people entrée into the business, including a lot of our present-day producers and directors. So, in the big picture, I view it as a positive.”

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

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Gabrielle Union, Stephanie Mills, Samuel L. Jackson, Carl Weathers, and Loni Love were among the stars who paid tribute to Roundtree on Tuesday night.



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