Richard Roundtree Dead at 81

( – Richard Roundtree died at age 81 at his home in Los Angeles on Tuesday, October 24th. The legendary star of the hit 70s movie “Shaft” gave African American men an ideal to aspire to and established the commercial viability of black male protagonists in popular films in the post-Civil-Rights era.

Patrick McMinn, his manager, reported that the cause of death was pancreatic cancer and that the diagnosis was just two months old.

Shaft was one of the first feature films to focus on African-American characters, debuting in 1971. Roundtree was 29 at the time. It could be considered foundational to the genre of so-called “blacksploitation” films or films that feature predominantly a black cast and themes.

John Shaft is a private detective with a confident stride, a popped collar, a leather jacket, and a thick mustache. He keeps a pearl-handled revolver in his refrigerator in his Manhattan apartment.

Shaft famously had women throwing themselves at him in the film and his attitude toward ladies was less-than-ideal by today’s standards. He was called the Black James Bond.

Commenting on the success of the film in 1972 to the New York Times, Roundtree said that it was nice to be a Black man who was winning for a change.

He returned in 1972 to star in “Shaft’s Big Score!” which had a bigger budget allowing for a boat chase and helicopters. In 1973 the studio dropped “Shaft in Africa” which featured the character going to Africa and posing as indigenous to expose a human trafficking ring. That third film lost money, but CBS still produced a short-lived series.

Film critic Maurice Peterson wrote that the major appeal of Shaft to all audiences, black and white alike, was that it portrayed a black character who wasn’t struggling with racism.

Roundtree was into football during high school and college. He ultimately dropped out of college and worked as a model for Ebony Fashion Fair for a summer before moving back to New York and joining the Negro Ensemble Theater Company. He had several roles on stage before landing Shaft. He starred in multiple film and TV shows after the success of Shaft.

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