I woke up this morning to hear the very sad news of the passing of actor Richard Roundtree at the age of 81. Richard had recently suffered from pancreatic cancer, having survived breast cancer back in 1993. He will, of course, be forever remembered for his groundbreaking role as private detective John Shaft in Gordon Parks’ 1971 adaptation of Ernest Tidyman’s novel, along with its two sequels and a TV series. He returned to the role in support of Samuel L Jackson in two new versions in 2000 and 2019.
Shaft was a huge box office and cultural success, opening many doors for black actors and technicians in the film industry. It spawned the so-called Blaxploitation genre of films, which dominated Hollywood for the next 2-3 years. The film’s impact was immense. Richard Roundtree’s performance was iconic.
Over more than 50 years, Richard had remained one of the busiest actors in film and in his later career he kept busy in character roles.
Samuel L. Jackson, who played Shaft’s son in two further sequels posted the following on his Instagram page, “His passing leaves a deep hole not only in my heart, but I’m sure a lotta y’all’s, too. Love you Brother, I see you walking down the Middle Street in Heaven & Isaac’s Conducting your song.”
Roundtree’s manager, Patrick McMinn, said, “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.” You’re damn right!