'Shaft' star Richard Roundtree dies at 81, agent says

ABCNews logo
Wednesday, October 25, 2023
'Shaft' star Richard Roundtree dies at 81, agent says
Richard Roundtree, the actor best known for his starring role in 'Shaft,' has died at 81.

LOS ANGELES -- Richard Roundtree, who broke cinematic ground with his lead role in the 1971 film "Shaft," has died at age 81, his manager confirms.

Roundtree died from pancreatic cancer, his management told ABC News.

"I'm very sad to report that our client Richard Roundtree passed away this afternoon after a brief battle with pancreatic cancer. His family was with him at his bedside.

"Artists & Representatives Agency mourns the loss of our friend and client Richard Roundtree. 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."

Richard Roundtree, star of the 1971 film "Shaft," appears at the New York premiere of the 2019 film of the same name.
"Shaft" (1971) trailer / AP Photo (2019)

"Shaft" was seen as one of the first to popularize the "blaxploitation" genre, a series of films in the 1970s starring Black actors that dealt with urban themes. Critics coined the term "blaxploitation" as a critique of their portrayal of African-American culture but the films became popular with mainstream audiences.

Directed by Gordon Parks, "Shaft" focused on a detective hired to find the kidnapped daughter of a Harlem mobster. The film's popularity paved the way for other stories in the genre, while its soundtrack by Isaac Hayes took two Grammys and an Oscar.

Roundtree's career spanned five decades. He went on to star in the sequels "Shaft's Big Score!," "Shaft in Africa" and the short-lived 1973 "Shaft" TV series.

He would reprise his signature role in the 2000 John Singleton movie "Shaft," starring Samuel L. Jackson, and the 2019 Tim Story-directed sequel.

Roundtree's many other film credits included 1981's "Inchon," opposite Laurence Olivier and Ben Gazzara, and 1984's "City Heat," opposite Clint Eastwood and Burt Reynolds, as well as "Se7en," "George of the Jungle," "Body of Influence," "Amityville: A New Generation" and "What Men Want." His last big-screen appearance was in the comedy "Moving On" in 2022.

His television credits included playing slave Sam Bennett in the acclaimed 1977 miniseries, "Roots." Other credits included the series "Generations," "413 Hope St.," "Alias," "Diary of a Single Mom," "Buddies," "Desperate Housewives," "Soul Food," "Being Mary Jane" and "Family Reunion," as well as season 2 of Ava DuVernay's OWN series "Cherish the Day" in 2022.