According to reports from the Hollywood Reporter and Deadline, Richard Roundtree, who was famous for his portrayal of the smooth-talking protagonist in the 1971 movie Shaft, passed away on Thursday.
According to Roundtree’s longtime manager, Patrick McMinn, the 81-year-old actor passed away in Los Angeles due to a battle with pancreatic cancer.
“His groundbreaking profession altered the landscape of the entertainment industry worldwide, and his lasting impact will be felt for many years to come. Our thoughts are with his family and loved ones during this challenging period,” stated Artists & Representatives, the agency that managed the deceased actor, in a statement to Deadline.
Roundtree shot to fame with the 1971 Blaxploitation movie Shaft about a private detective in the Harlem section of New York, and he reprised the role in a number of sequels and a short-lived network TV series.
The tough and urban protagonist, sporting flashy leather jackets and accompanied by a catchy theme song from Isaac Hayes, became a symbol of coolness for a Black leading figure and was embraced by audiences of all races.
During his extensive 40+ year career in Hollywood, Roundtree portrayed a wide range of characters in both movies and TV shows. These include his roles in the 1977 miniseries Roots and the 1974 film Earthquake, where he played the daring motorcycle stuntman Miles.
One of his most moving movies was Once Upon a Time … When We Were Colored from 1996, which tells the story of a close-knit Black community facing the racism in post-war Mississippi.
During the 2010s, he gained renewed recognition among younger viewers for his role as Gabrielle Union’s father in the BET series Being Mary Jane.
Union tweeted that working with Richard Roundtree was a wonderful experience and that he was the best, and they all had a fondness for him.
Messages of admiration for Roundtree came flooding in from every direction. Actress Sheryl Lee Ralph, known for her role in Abbott Elementary, paid tribute to him as a “remarkable individual.”
Attorney Sherrilyn Ifill from the NAACP Legal Defense Fund paid tribute to the “legendary” actor.
According to IMDB.com, Roundtree has 159 acting credits and three future projects that have not yet been released. He consistently worked until the end.
In 1942, Roundtree was born in New Rochelle, New York. He received a football scholarship to attend Southern Illinois University in the early 1960s, but decided to leave college early to pursue a career in modeling. In 1967, he joined the Negro Ensemble Company and started his journey as an actor, as reported by the Hollywood Reporter.
According to Variety, he was married two times and is survived by his son, James, and four daughters named Nicole, Tayler, Morgan, and Kelli Roundtree.
This report was contributed by Reuters.