Richard Roundtree, Acclaimed as the "First Black Action Film Protagonist", Passes Away
Home News Richard Roundtree, Acclaimed as the “First Black Action Film Protagonist”, Passes Away
News - October 26, 2023

Richard Roundtree, Acclaimed as the “First Black Action Film Protagonist”, Passes Away

Richard Roundtree, a revered figure in the world of film known for his trailblazing role as private investigator John Shaft in the 1970s ‘Shaft’ film series, passed away at the age of 81. His death was confirmed by his manager, Patrick McMinn, as reported by The Hollywood Reporter.

Roundtree’s memorable portrayal in the 1971 Blaxploitation classic, “Shaft,” revolutionized cinema, offering audiences a powerful Black protagonist at a time when such representation was scarce. With his stylish leather jackets, and the famous theme song by Isaac Hayes setting the backdrop, Roundtree’s John Shaft became an enduring symbol of cool, challenging, and expanding racial perceptions in Hollywood.

Richard Roundtree’s illustrious career

Born in New Rochelle, New York on July 9, 1942, Roundtree began his journey in the acting world in the early 1960s. His magnetic performance as John Shaft at 29 made him an overnight sensation. However, this was just the beginning of a versatile and impactful career.

Beyond the neon lights of Harlem and the gritty streets that Shaft patrolled, Roundtree showcased his acting prowess in numerous roles. Notably, he starred in the seminal ABC television drama “Roots” in 1977 and took on the role of the brave Miles in 1974’s “Earthquake.” His performance in the 1996 film “Once Upon a Time… When We Were Colored” resonated deeply, reflecting the struggles of a Black community in post-war Mississippi. 

His work alongside acting legends such as Peter O’Toole and Laurence Olivier further solidified his position in the pantheon of great actors. According to, Roundtree’s illustrious career comprised a remarkable 159 acting credits, and he was actively working on three projects yet to be unveiled to the public.

Samuel L Jackson, who co-starred with Roundtree in recent Shaft iterations, mourned the loss on Instagram, saying, “His passing leaves a deep hole not only in my heart, but I’m sure a lotta y’all’s, too.” Referencing the iconic Shaft theme, Jackson added, “Love you Brother, I see you walking down the Middle Street in Heaven & Isaac’s Conducting your song.”

What led to his death

In 1993, in a twist that surprised many, Roundtree was diagnosed with breast cancer and subsequently underwent a double mastectomy, showcasing his resilience and strength off-screen as well.

Richard Roundtree is survived by his daughters Kelli, Nicole, Taylor, and Morgan, his son John, and at least one grandchild. The world of cinema has lost a giant, but his legacy, one of breaking barriers and redefining roles, will undoubtedly continue to shine for generations to come.

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