Richard Roundtree, who died Tuesday at 81 in Los Angeles, was easily one of the coolest actors ever.
When he was cast as the Black private eye John Shaft in the 1971 film of the same name, the former college football player and model was relatively unknown.
But he commanded the screen from the very first minutes of its opening sequence, said film scholar Novotny Lawrence.
Unashamedly Black and swaggering, Shaft represented a whole new class of movie characters. He nabbed mobsters and clapped back at white police officers who said stupid things. According to Lawrence, “He gave Black people that icon in the ’70s.” Blaxploitation is a genre that Shaft helped to create and had a tremendous success in. In addition to starring in several Shaft sequels, Roundtree has over 150 credits in films and television shows, including Being Mary Jane, Desperate Housewives, and Roots.
He also disclosed his breast cancer diagnosis from 1993. Lawrence claimed that by doing so, he “became a figure to demonstrate, ‘Men, it’s OK, Shaft had breast cancer.'” Roundtree passed away from pancreatic cancer on Tuesday. Five children survive him. On social media, actor Samuel L. Jackson, who starred in several Shaft films, asserted that Roundtree was undoubtedly walking in Heaven with that iconic Shaft swagger that made a lasting impression on both American culture and cinema.
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