"Gone, But Never Forgotten: Remembering Richard Roundtree, the Legendary 'Shaft' Star"richardroundtree,shaft,legendaryactor,remembering,gonebutneverforgotten
"Gone, But Never Forgotten: Remembering Richard Roundtree, the Legendary 'Shaft' Star"

“Gone, But Never Forgotten: Remembering Richard Roundtree, the Legendary ‘Shaft’ Star”

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Richard Roundtree, ‘<strong>Shaft</strong>‘ Star, Dies at 81

Richard Roundtree, ‘Shaft‘ Star, Dies at 81


Oct 24, 2023 5:51pm PT

Richard Roundtree

Richard Roundtree, an icon of Blaxploitation film who starred as detective John Shaft in Gordon Parks’ 1971 action thriller, died Tuesday afternoon after a short battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 81 years old.

His death was confirmed by Patrick McMinn, his manager since 1987. “Richard’s work and career served as a turning point for African American leading men in film,” McMinn said in his statement. “The impact he had on the industry cannot be overstated.”

Roundtree was a leading man from the very start of his lifetime in screen acting. After beginning his career in modeling, he secured “Shaft” at the age of 28, marking his feature debut. The MGM release earned $12 million in ticket sales off of a $500,000 production budget, helping to save the studio from bankruptcy.

A breakthrough hit, “Shaft” set the tone for a prolific decade of Blaxploitation filmmaking and demonstrated Hollywood’s historical failure to consider Black talent and the moviegoing audiences that they could reach.

Ambiguity about “Exploitation”

When asked about the “exploitation” label attached to “Shaft” by The New York Times in a 2019 interview, Roundtree expressed some ambiguity about the term. “I had the privilege of working with the classiest gentleman possibly that I’ve ever known in the industry, Gordon Parks. So, that word, exploitation, I take offense to with any attachment to Gordon Parks… I’ve always viewed that as a negative. Exploitation. Who’s being exploited?” Roundtree said. “But it gave a lot of people work. It gave a lot of people entrée into the business, including a lot of our present-day producers and directors. So, in the big picture, I view it as a positive.

Long and Illustrious Career

Roundtree’s career was long and illustrious. Already a marquee name, Roundtree quickly grew beyond his star-making role, with performances in the ensemble disaster film “Earthquake,” a starring turn alongside Peter O’Toole in “Man Friday” and another as an ill-fated detective in Larry Cohen’s monster comedy “Q — The Winged Serpent.”

He also frequently appeared as a guest star on TV shows, with credits including “Roots,” “Magnum P.I.” and “The Love Boat.”

Roundtree returned to the world of “Shaft” in director John Singleton’s 2000 revival of the franchise, starring Samuel L. Jackson. Although Jackson also played a detective named John Shaft, his character was written as the nephew to Roundtree’s original private eye. Both actors reprised their roles in 2019 for Tim Story’s comedic take on the series.

A True Trailblazer

Roundtree’s role in “Shaft” and his impact on the industry cannot be understated. He opened doors for African American actors and showed Hollywood the potential of diverse casting and storytelling.

Roundtree’s work paved the way for generations of Black actors and filmmakers, and his legacy will continue to inspire and resonate for years to come.

Remembering Richard Roundtree

Richard Roundtree’s contribution to cinema will always be remembered and celebrated. His powerful portrayal of John Shaft not only entertained audiences but also challenged the prevailing norms of the industry.

His charisma and talent made him an enduring figure in the film world. From his iconic role in “Shaft” to his diverse body of work, Roundtree captivated audiences with his presence on the screen.


Richard Roundtree’s death marks the loss of a legendary actor, a true trailblazer in the film industry, and a cultural icon. His talent, passion, and commitment to his craft will continue to inspire future generations of actors and filmmakers.


"Gone, But Never Forgotten: Remembering Richard Roundtree, the Legendary
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G'day, mates! I'm Greg Buckley, and I've been reporting here in the land Down Under for the last 15 years. I'm all about sports and culture, so if there's a footy match or an art exhibit, you'll likely see me there. Let's give it a burl together, Australia!

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