Richard Roundtree, ‘Shaft’ Star Dead At 81

Richard Roundtree. (Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images)

OAN’s Brooke Mallory
11:27 AM – Wednesday, October 25, 2023

Actor Richard Roundtree, who debuted his acting chops in the 1971 Shaft film franchise’s first installment as John Shaft, has passed away.


He was 81 years old.

His manager, Patrick McMinn, who leads McMinn Management and Artists & Representatives Agency, released a statement confirming his sudden passing. He added that Roundtree died on Tuesday afternoon after battling pancreatic cancer.

McMinn also said that his family was by his side when he took his last breath.

“Artists & Representatives Agency mourns the loss of our friend and client Richard Roundtree,” he posted.

Roundtree was a well-known survivor of breast cancer. After receiving a breast cancer diagnosis in 1993, he started advocating for men to be more aware of the disease.

According to his IMDb profile, Roundtree was born in New Rochelle, New York, and attended Southern Illinois University for football. He also worked as a model for some years.

Roundtree grew interested in theater and later joined New York’s renowned Negro Ensemble Company (NEC). He then starred off-Broadway as Jack Johnson in “The Great White Hope” until the role of John Shaft was presented to him.

The iconic Gordon Parks directed the 1971 movie, which took home Oscars for best original song and best music for Isaac Hayes’ self-titled hit and other pieces he wrote for the film.

Roundtree’s life and Hollywood’s blaxploitation genre was forever altered when he played John Shaft, the “hotter than Bond, cooler than Bullitt” private investigator who emerged as an unrepentant hero and underground combatant of crime.

The box office and critical acclaim of Shaft sparked a brief but significant surge of big-budget Hollywood productions with strong Black leads. Additionally, it gave Roundtree a variety of acting chances, with his face appearing on screen constantly.

His additional credits include popular shows like CHiPs, Magnum P.I., Desperate Housewives, Grey’s Anatomy, and Chicago Fire. Additionally, Roundtree starred in other action movies in the 1980s and 1990s, such as Original Gangstas.

Naturally, Roundtree played himself or his relatives in later Samuel L. Jackson-starring Shaft films. For his narrator work on the 2002 PBS documentary The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow, Roundtree was honored with a Peabody Award.

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