Shaft Star Richard Roundtree Dies at 81 – IGN

Shaft Star Richard Roundtree Dies at 81 - IGN

Richard Roundtree, who portrayed the iconic John Shaft across five films and a short-lived TV series, has died at 81. Roundtree died while in the company of his family at his Los Angeles home from pancreatic cancer, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

Born in 1942 in New Rochelle, New York, Roundtree began acting after dropping out of college (which he was attending on a football scholarship) following a brief stint as a model. Rather than returning to college, Roundtree returned to New York instead to take acting lessons.

While Roundtree’s acting career began on stage with New York’s famous Negro Ensemble Company, it was his portrayal of private detective John Shaft in the highly-influential 1971 action classic Shaft that made him a star. Roundtree’s first feature film was an instant success and his performance in it was a pioneering one, cementing Shaft as an action hero “hotter than Bond, cooler than Bullitt” and helping establish and shape the entire blaxploitation genre.

Roundtree reprised his role as Shaft in two immediate sequels – Shaft’s Big Score! (1972) and Shaft in Africa (1973) – and a brief TV series aired between 1973 and 1974. He later returned to the series alongside Samuel L. Jackson in Shaft (2000), where he was ostensibly described as the uncle of Jackson’s Shaft, and again alongside Jackson and Jessie T. Usher in Shaft (2019). The 2019 film retcons Roundtree’s Shaft as the father of Jackson’s Shaft and grandfather of Usher’s JJ Shaft, establishing that John Shaft Sr had previously lied about being an uncle.

Some of Roundtree’s other movie appearances included Earthquake (1974), Escape to Athena (1979), City Heat (1984), Maniac Cop (1988), Seven (1995), George of the Jungle (1997), and Speed Racer (2008).

He also had a long string of TV credits, from the Emmy award-winning 1977 miniseries Roots to regular and recurring roles on Outlaws, Generations, Desperate Housewives, and Heroes. He also made appearances in Murder, She Wrote, 21 Jump Street, MacGyver, Beverly Hills, 90210, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Alias, and dozens of others.

Co-stars Samuel L. Jackson and Gabrielle Union have paid tribute to Roundtree on social media, with Jackson describing him as “the prototype, the best to ever do it” and Union noting he was “ALWAYS the coolest man in the room.”

Luke is a Senior Editor on the IGN reviews team. You can chat to him on Twitter @MrLukeReilly.

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