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Richard Roundtree, the First Black Action Movie Hero, Died at the Age of 81



Richard Roundtree, the First Black Action Movie Hero, Died at the Age of 81

Actor Richard Roundtree, a trailblazer who played the ultra-smooth private detective in several “Shaft” movies starting in the early 1970s, has died. 81 years old.

Longtime manager Patrick McMinn revealed that Richard Roundtree passed away on Tuesday at his Los Angeles home after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. In 1993, he received a breast cancer diagnosis and had a double mastectomy.

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

Born in New Rochelle, New York, Richard Roundtree became recognized as the first Black action hero and rose to prominence in the blaxploitation genre with his astute portrayal of New York street-smart John Shaft in the 1971 film directed by Gordon Parks. It was Roundtree’s first appearance in a feature film at the age of 28, having begun his career as a model.

Hollywood’s perception of Black films changed as a result of Richard Roundtree’s “Shaft,” as Black actors were not given credit for leading roles in films at the time. African-American audiences were the target audience for most of the blaxploitation movies.

His character in the movie made his way through the world of thugs. He would frequently utter catchphrases like “It’s my duty to please that booty.”

In 2000, Richard Roundtree stated, “What we were doing was a good, old Saturday afternoon shoot ’em up.” in an interview.

The line “You a bad mother—(Shut your mouth)” from Isaac Hayes’ “Shaft” theme song contributed to the original film’s infiltration of pop culture. The song was compared to the “shot heard round the world,” according to the singer, who died in 2008. In 1971, his song took home the Best Song Oscar Academy Award and two Grammy Awards the following year.

Following the success of the movie, Richard Roundtree made a reappearance in the 1972 and 1973 sequels, Shaft’s Big Score and Shaft in Africa. In the eponymous year, he reprised his role as the savvy detective on the short-lived CBS series “Shaft.”

In a 2000 revival of the Samuel L. Jackson film “Shaft,” Richard Roundtree played the same role. He made an appearance in the big-budget, mass-market movie as Jackson’s uncle. In the 2019 movie starring Jessie T. Usher, both made repeat appearances in the same roles.

In a social media post, Jackson referred to Richard Roundtree as the “prototype” and the “best to ever do it.”

“SHAFT, as we know it is & will always be his Creation,” he said of Richard Roundtree. “His passing leaves a deep hole not only in my heart, but I’m sure a lotta y’all’s, too.”

Over the course of his more than 50-year career, Richard Roundtree starred in a number of other notable movies, such as “What Men Want,” “Earthquake,” “Man Friday” starring Peter O’Toole, “Roots,” “Maniac Cop,” and “Se7en.” His television appearances on “Magnum P.I.”, “The Love Boat,” “Being Mary Jane,” and “The Love Boat” also helped him establish his reputation.

At the MTV Movie & TV Awards in 1995, Richard Roundtree was given a lifetime achievement award.

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