American actor Richard Roundtree, best known for his role as 1970s private detective John Shaft, has died. His management has announced this. He was suffering from pancreatic cancer, a diagnosis he had received just two months ago. In the 1990s he was successfully treated for breast cancer. Roundtree was 81 years old.
“His groundbreaking career changed the entertainment industry worldwide and his legacy will be felt for generations,” his management told American media. “Our thoughts are with his family and loved ones.”
The actor will go down in history as one of the best-known faces of the blaxploitation genre, films from the 1970s that were mainly made for a black audience and in which black actors play the leading roles. The role brought Roundtree great fame in 1971 at the age of 29: his John Shaft became iconic and is also seen as the first black action hero.
The stubborn detective and playboy John Shaft, with his supple leather jacket and fuck youattitude was the embodiment of at the time cool: “a sex machine for all chicks“, as singer Isaac Hayes sultrily described him in the soundtrack of Shaft, with the famous title song Theme from Shaft.
He himself was convinced that John Shaft was based on the director of the film, Gordon Parks. “The way he moved, the way he talked. He’s the most refined person I’ve ever met.”
The title song of Shaft, by singer Isaac Hayes:
Not only were the films, books, comics and short-lived series left Shaft very popular, they also showed racially segregated America a black hero who did not have to struggle with racism while working as a detective in Harlem. “Richard’s work and career were a turning point for black American filmmaking,” his manager said.
Throughout his four-decade career, Roundtree played several roles. For example, he was seen in the disaster film Earthquake (1974), the drama film Once upon a time… when we were colored (1995) and for example in the series Desperate Housewives (2004-2012), in which he again played a private detective.
It is not said that Roundtree’s death is also the end of it Shaft means. A new one appeared in 2019 Shaftfilm, starring Samuel L. Jackson as a cybersecurity expert and John Shaft’s nephew. Roundtree himself reprized the role of John Shaft in that film.
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