Richard Roundtree death: Shaft actor dies aged 81

Richard Roundtree, the American actor best known for his roles in the Shaft film franchise, has died aged 81.

His manager, Patrick McMinn, said Roundtree was surrounded by his family in his Los Angeles home on Tuesday afternoon when he died.

He passed away following a brief struggle with pancreatic cancer.

“Richard’s work and career served as a turning point for African American leading men in film,” Mr McMinn was quoted as saying by the Hollywood Reporter.

“The impact he had on the industry cannot be overstated,” he added.

In 1993, Roundtree was diagnosed with breast cancer and had a double mastectomy.

He later said: “Breast cancer is not gender specific. 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 married twice and is survived by four daughters and a son.

Roundtree was born on 9 July 1942 in New Rochelle, New York. His parents, John Roundtree and Kathryn (Watkins) Roundtree, were recorded as a butler and a cook in the same household in the 1940 census, according to the New York Times.

He attended New Rochelle High School and played for its football team.

Shaft, released in 1971, catapulted Roundtree to stardom at the age of 29.

Following Shaft, Roundtree essayed a diverse range of roles in other movies. He featured in the star-studded cast, alongside Charlton Heston and Ava Gardner, in the disaster film Earthquake (1974). He assumed the title role in Man Friday (1975), portraying a vibrant, generous partner to Peter O’Toole’s 17th-century explorer Robinson Crusoe.

In Inchon (1981), Roundtree played an Army officer on General Douglas MacArthur’s (Laurence Olivier) staff in Korea. He shared the screen with Clint Eastwood and Burt Reynolds in City Heat (1984) and faced off against a colossal flying lizard in Q (1982).

The Hollywood Reporter quoted him saying once that his father “was out visiting me in LA, and I was complaining about [how] 24/7, the Shaft character comes up,”. His father told him: “Son, let me tell you something. A lot of people leave this Earth not being known for anything. Shut up.”

“Artists & Representatives Agency mourns the loss of our friend and client Richard Roundtree,” the agency said in a statement.

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“His trailblazing career changed the face of entertainment around the globe and his enduring legacy will be felt for generations to come. Our hearts are with his family and loved ones during this difficult time.”

Samuel L Jackson, who took over the Shaft movie franchise in 2000, paid tribute to the actor on his social media. “Richard Roundtree, The Prototype, The Best To Ever Do It!! SHAFT, as we know it is & will always be His Creation!!,” he wrote.

“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 of Main Street in Heaven & Issac’s Conducting your song” referring to the late Isaac Hayes’ famous Theme from Shaft, which won an Oscar.