Richard Roundtree, Star of ‘Shaft,’ Dies at 81

Richard Roundtree, the actor who redefined African American masculinity within the motion pictures when he performed the title position in “Shaft,” one of many first Black motion heroes, died on Tuesday at his house in Los Angeles. He was 81.

The trigger was pancreatic most cancers, stated his supervisor, Patrick McMinn, who stated that it had been recognized two months in the past.

“Shaft,” which was launched in 1971, was among the many first of the so-called Blaxploitation motion pictures, and it made Roundtree a film star at 29.

The character John Shaft is his personal man, a personal detective who jaywalks confidently by way of shifting Instances Sq. site visitors in a good-looking brown leather-based coat with the collar turned up; sports activities a sturdy, darkish mustache someplace between walrus-style and a downturned handlebar; and retains a pearl-handled revolver within the fridge in his Greenwich Village duplex condo. As Roundtree noticed in a 1972 article in The New York Instances, he’s “a Black man who’s for as soon as a winner.”

Along with catapulting Roundtree to fame, the film additionally drew consideration to its theme tune, carried out by Isaac Hayes, which gained the 1973 Academy Award for greatest unique tune. It described Shaft as “a intercourse machine to all of the chicks,” “a foul mom” and “the cat who gained’t cop out when there’s hazard all about.” Are you able to dig it? The director Gordon Parks’s gritty city cinematography served as punctuation.

A fictional product of his unenlightened pre-feminist period, Shaft was residing the Playboy journal reader’s dream, with stunning ladies obtainable to him as keen, downright grateful, intercourse companions. And he didn’t all the time deal with them with respect. Some known as him, for higher or worse, the Black James Bond.

He performed the position once more in “Shaft’s Huge Rating!” (1972), which bumped up the chase scenes to incorporate speedboats and helicopters and the horny ladies to incorporate unique dancers and different males’s mistresses. Shaft was investigating the homicide of a numbers runner, utilizing greater weapons and ignoring one criminal’s pleasant recommendation to “preserve the hell out of Queens.”

In “Shaft in Africa” (1973), the character posed as an Indigenous man to show a criminal offense ring that exploited immigrants being smuggled into Europe. Filmed largely in Ethiopia, the second sequel misplaced cash and led to a CBS sequence that lasted solely seven weeks.

However the movies had made their affect. Because the movie critic Maurice Peterson noticed in Essence journal, “Shaft” was “the primary image to point out a Black man who leads a life free from racial torment.”

Richard Arnold Roundtree was born on July 9, 1942 (some sources say 1937), in New Rochelle, N.Y., the son of John Roundtree and Kathryn (Watkins) Roundtree, who have been recognized within the 1940 census as a butler and a prepare dinner in the identical family.

At New Rochelle Excessive Faculty, Richard performed on the varsity’s undefeated soccer crew, graduated in 1961 and attended Southern Illinois College on a soccer scholarship. However he dropped out of school in 1963 after he spent a summer season as a mannequin with the Ebony Style Honest, a touring presentation sponsored by a number one information and tradition journal for Black readers.

He moved again to New York, labored a variety of jobs and shortly started his theater profession, becoming a member of the Negro Ensemble Firm. His first position was in a 1967 manufacturing of “The Nice White Hope,” starring because the early twentieth century’s first Black heavyweight boxing champion. A Broadway manufacturing starring James Earl Jones opened the subsequent yr and gained three main Tony Awards and the Pulitzer Prize for drama.

After “Shaft,” Roundtree made diversified selections in film roles. He was within the all-star ensemble solid, with Charlton Heston and Ava Gardner, of the catastrophe film “Earthquake” (1974). He performed the title position in “Man Friday” (1975), a vibrant, beneficiant, finally extra civilized companion to Peter O’Toole’s Seventeenth-century explorer Robinson Crusoe.

In “Inchon” (1981), which Vincent Canby in The New York Instances described as wanting like “the costliest B film ever made,” he was an Military officer on the employees of Gen. Douglas MacArthur (Laurence Olivier) in Korea. He starred with Clint Eastwood and Burt Reynolds in “Metropolis Warmth” (1984) and with a large flying lizard in “Q” (1982).

On the small display he performed Sam Bennett, the raffish carriage driver who courted Kizzie (Leslie Uggams) within the acclaimed mini-series “Roots” (1977). The present was transformational. “You bought a way of white People saying, ‘Rattling, that actually occurred,’ ” Roundtree stated in an ABC particular celebrating the present’s twenty fifth anniversary.

Roundtree’s title continues to be related to the Nineteen Seventies however he was simply as busy in the course of the subsequent 4 many years. He was an amoral personal detective in a five-episode story arc of “Determined Housewives” (2004); appeared in 60 episodes of the cleaning soap opera “Generations” (1990); and performed Booker T. Washington within the 1999 tv film “Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters’ First 100 Years.” He was a big-city district legal professional within the movie “Seven” (1995) and a strong-willed Mississippi iceman in “As soon as Upon a Time … When We Have been Coloured” (1996).

After the yr 2000, when he was pushing 60, he made appearances in additional than 25 small-screen sequence (he was a solid member of or had recurring roles in 9 of them — together with “Heroes,” “Being Mary Jane” and “Household Reunion”) and did half a dozen tv motion pictures and greater than 20 characteristic movies.

In 2020, he starred as a fishing boat’s gray-bearded captain in “Haunting of the Mary Celeste,” a supernatural maritime film thriller. In 2022, he acted in an episode of “Cherish the Day,” Ava DuVernay’s romantic drama sequence.

Roundtree married Mary Jane Grant in 1963. They’d two kids earlier than divorcing in 1973. In 1980, he married Karen M. Cierna. They’d three kids and divorced in 1998.

Roundtree is survived by 4 daughters; Kelli, Nicole, Taylor, Morgan; a son, John; and a minimum of one grandchild.

The Shaft character, created by Ernest Tidyman in a sequence of Nineteen Seventies novels, endured — with Hollywood alterations. Samuel L. Jackson starred as a personality with the identical title, supposedly the primary John Shaft’s nephew, in a 2000 sequel titled “Shaft.”

In 2019, one other “Shaft” was launched, additionally starring Jackson (now stated to be the unique character’s son) and Jessie T. Usher as his son, J.J. Shaft, an M.I.T.-educated cybersecurity professional. The movie felt one thing like a buddy-cops comedy, however the smartest factor it did, because the Selection evaluate famous, was to take Roundtree, “bald, with a snowy-white beard,” and “flip him into a personality who’s hotter, and cooler, than anybody round him” and whose “spirit is spry, and harder than leather-based.”

Orlando Mayorquin contributed reporting.

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