Richard Roundtree Passes Away, Shaft Star Was 81

Richard Roundtree — the actor known for originating the role of action hero John Shaft — has died. He was 81 years old.

In a statement to The Hollywood Reporter, Roundtree’s manager, Patrick McMinn, confirmed that the actor passed away at his home in Los Angeles today, October 24, following a battle with pancreatic cancer.

Roundtree had previously been diagnosed with breast cancer in 1993, and underwent a double mastectomy. “Breast cancer is not gender specific,” the actor said four years later. “And men have this cavalier attitude about health issues. I got such positive feedback because I spoke out about it and it’s been quite a number of years now. I’m a survivor.”

Roundtree was born in New Rochelle, New York on July 9, 1942. He graduated from New Rochelle High School in 1961. He subsequently attended Southern Illinois University, though dropped out in 1963 to begin his acting career. It was in 1971 that Roundtree starred in director Gordon Parks’ blaxploitation action-thriller Shaft, based on the 1970 novel of the same name by Ernest Tidyman.

Roundtree reprised his role as John Shaft in 1972’s Shaft’s Big Score! and 1973’s Shaft in Africa. He also played the character in a heptalogy of Shaft television films, which aired on CBS from 1973 to 1974. Years later, Roundtree appeared in the 2000 Shaft reboot starring Samuel L. Jackson. The late actor made one final appearance in the 2019 sequel of the same name.

That said, Shaft was not Roundtree’s only notable role. He also starred opposite Peter O’Toole in the 1975 film Man Friday. Additionally, he appeared in the iconic 1977 ABC miniseries Roots, starring LeVar Burton. Some of Roundtree’s other movie credits include Maniac Cop, Speed Racer, and What Men Want. His other TV credits include Murder, She Wrote; Generations; 21 Jump Street; MacGyver; The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air; Beverly Hills, 90210; Desperate Housewives; and Heroes.

ComingSoon sends condolences to Roundtree friends and family at this time.