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Richard Roundtree, who starred in classic Shaft series, is dead at 81

Richard Roundtree dead at 81: Groundbreaking actor who starred in the classic Shaft film franchise passes away following brief battle with pancreatic cancer

  • Roundtree died Tuesday after a cancer battle while surrounded by family
  • He’s best known for starring as private detective John Shaft in the 1971 film
  • The smash hit Blaxploitation film led to dozens of roles in subsequent years

Richard Roundtree, who helped define cinematic cool with his iconic title role in Shaft and its sequels, has died at age 81.

Roundtree died on Tuesday afternoon after a short bout with pancreatic cancer, according to Deadline.

He was surrounded by family at the time of his death. 

In 2019, the screen star reprised his Shaft role with Samuel L. Jackson playing his son.

Roundtree first starred as the detective John Shaft in 1971’s Shaft, which was directed by the photographer and composer–turned–filmmaker Gordon Parks and featured a classic soundtrack recorded by Isaac Hayes.

Classic star: Richard Roundtree, who helped define cinematic cool with his iconic title role in Shaft and its sequels, has died at age 81 after a short battle with pancreatic cancer; seen in 2022

Iconic role: Roundtree first starred as the detective John Shaft in 1971’s Shaft, which was directed by the photographer and composer–turned–filmmaker Gordon Parks and featured a classic soundtrack recorded by Isaac Hayes

Shaft initially received mixed reviews, with some critics objecting to the films harsh language and occasionally brutal violence.

Others criticized the feature for not having a more dignified character for Roundtree and other Black actors to play, though Parks responded to one critical essay in the New York Times in 1971.

The original author had criticized Shaft for focusing on a private detective in the mold of Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe, rather than being a more high-minded drama in the mold of the Jack Nicholson–starring Five Easy Pieces

‘I don’t think the choice for Black people is limited to either Five Easy Pieces or Stepin Fetchit,’ Parks wrote in defense, referring to the actor who was infamous for his racist portrayals of lazy Black men.

Even if Shaft polarized critics, it was a hit with audiences, at the film went on to earn an astounding $12 million (equivalent to over $373 million when accounting for inflation) against a budget of just $500,000.

Fan favorite: Shaft initially received mixed reviews, with some critics objecting to the films harsh language and occasionally violence, but it was a hit with audiences and at the box office

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