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Actor Richard Roundtree dies at 81

Richard Roundtree

Richard Roundtree, best known for his role as Detective John Shaft in the ‘70s action thriller “Shaft,” has died, reports say. He was 81.

Roundtree died Tuesday, the actor’s manager Patrick McMinn confirmed to The Hollywood Reporter, Variety and other news outlets. He died following a battle with pancreatic cancer, THR said.

USA TODAY has reached out to Roundtree’s representative for details.

Roundtree’s “Being Mary Jane” co-star Gabrielle Union mourned the actor’s death in an X post on Tuesday, writing that working with Roundtree was “a dream.”

“He was ALWAYS the coolest man in the room with the best vibes (and people) would literally run over to come see him,” Union wrote. “We all loved him.”

Roundtree was a cancer survivor, having been previously diagnosed with breast cancer in 1993. Although he was initially quiet about it, Roundtree later became an advocate for raising awareness of the disease.

“Not talking about my cancer was really tough,” Roundtree told ABC News in a 2007 interview. “And now that I do talk about it all the time, it’s really become a backhanded blessing. I was getting on a plane recently, and a flight attendant ran up to me and said, ‘You saved my husband’s life.’ ”

Born in New Rochelle, New York, in 1942, Roundtree made his silver-screen debut in 1971 with his starring role in the Gordon Parks-directed “Shaft,” which followed the exploits of private eye John Shaft. The low-budget movie rocked the cultural firmament like an earthquake.

“Shaft” was made for $500,000 and grossed $13 million, nabbing a best original song Oscar for Isaac Hayes, who composed the title track. Soon, the floodgates would open, releasing a deluge of so-dubbed Blaxploitation movies throughout the 1970s.

The films were a turning point for Black people in American cinema, and “Shaft” set a template for the genre with Black actors featured in every key role and its unvarnished portrayal of ghetto street life.

Roundtree’s performance earned him a Golden Globe nomination for most promising male newcomer in 1972. Roundtree went on to portray John Shaft in 1972’s “Shaft’s Big Score!,” 1973’s “Shaft in Africa” and the “Shaft” TV series.

In the 1977 blockbuster miniseries “Roots,” Roundtree played Sam Bennett, starring in the historical drama opposite LeVar Burton, Robert Reed and John Amos.

The NAACP Image Awards-nominated actor kept busy in the following decades, making guest appearances on TV shows such as “The Love Boat,” “Magnum, P.I.,” “Beverly Hill, 90210” and “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.”

In 2019, Roundtree returned to his iconic Shaft role in the reboot “Shaft” alongside Samuel L. Jackson and Jessie T. Usher. The film grossed $21.4 million at the domestic box office.

Roundtree’s most recent movie appearance was in the 2023 comedy “Moving On,” co-starring Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda.

In other news – Toya Delazy Celebrates One Year Of Being Sober

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