The actor Richard Roundtreefamous for the role of detective John Shaft in the 1971 action thriller Shaft the detective directed by Gordon Parks and in subsequent episodes, is died on October 24th at the age of 81 after a short battle against a pancreatic tumor. He confirmed the disappearance Patrick McMinnthe star’s manager since 1987: “Richard’s work and career were a turning point for the African-American protagonists in movies. The impact he has had on the industry cannot be overstated.”
AN AFRICAN AMERICAN CULTURAL ICON
Born July 9, 1942 in New Rochelle, Roundtree began his career as a model and at age 28 made his big screen debut as Detective John Shaft in the first episode of the saga Shaft the detective directed in 1971 by Gordon Parks. As reported by Variety the film, which had invested a budget of just 500,000 dollars, had earned 12 million dollars at the box office and had saved the production company MGM from bankruptcy. The film represents there blaxploitation, a genre deriving from the combination of the words “black” and “exploitation” born in the United States in the early seventies. The films were aimed at an African-American audience and were characterized by a predominantly black cast, stories set in urban America, a limited budget and soundtracks of soul and funk music. While criticized for portraying stereotypes, the productions filled a gap in the entertainment industry and affirmed the power of the black community on screen and beyond. For his performance in the original film Roundtree, called the first black action hero, he was nominated in 1972 for the Golden Globe as Best Debut Actorwhile the Academy awarded the soundtrack Theme from Shaft by Isaac Hayes with the Oscar for Best Original Song. In an interview given to The New York Times in 2019, Roundtree said: “I had the privilege of working with the most elegant gentleman I have ever met in the business, Gordon Parks. So, that word, exploitation, offends me for any connection to Gordon Parks…I’ve always seen it as a negative thing. Exploitation. Who was exploited? But he gave jobs to a lot of people. He brought a lot of people into the business, including many of our current producers and directors. So, in the big picture, I consider it positive.” The actor then starred in the sequels Shaft strikes again of 1972 and Shaft and the slave traders from 1973, the year it also came out the television series Shaft lasted just a year. “You can’t cancel events, but I wish I could,” Roundtree said. “I had just returned from Shaft and the slave traders when they tried to convert the character to television. It wouldn’t have happened. That was a bad moment in my long, illustrious career.” The actor finally returned to the world of Shaft in the revival Shaft directed in 2000 by John Singleton, with Samuel L. Jackson as John Shaft II, nephew of the original detective. Both reprized their respective roles for the comedy Shaft directed in 2019 by Tim Story.
OTHER CAREER GOALS
Roundtree also starred in the ensemble disaster film, among others Earthquake of 1974, n The Friday Man of 1975 alongside Peter O’Toole and in the comedy The winged serpent of 1982 directed by Larry Cohen. He has also appeared as a guest star in TV series such as Magnum PI And Love Boat.
THE MEMORY OF SAMUEL L. JACKSON
Samuel L. Jackson remembered Roundtree on Instagram: “Richard Roundtree, the prototype, the best at it!! Shaft, as we know him, is and always will be his creation!!” wrote the setmate. “His passing leaves a deep hole not only in my heart, but I’m sure in many of yours as well. I love you brother, I see you walking down the middle of Heaven’s main street and Isaac leads your song while your coat blows in the wind!!”