Richard Roundtree, the ultracool actor who helped open the door to a technology of Black filmmakers and performers along with his portrayal of personal eye John Shaft, “the cat that gained’t cop out when there’s hazard all about,” died Tuesday. He was 81.
Roundtree died at his dwelling in Los Angeles of pancreatic most cancers, his supervisor, Patrick McMinn, advised The Hollywood Reporter.
He was recognized with breast most cancers in 1993 and had a double mastectomy. “Breast most cancers shouldn’t be gender particular,” he stated 4 years later. “And males have this cavalier angle about well being points. I obtained such optimistic suggestions as a result of I spoke out about it, and it’s been fairly quite a few years now. I’m a survivor.”
Roundtree additionally portrayed the title character reverse Peter O’Toole as Robinson Crusoe in Man Friday, was featured as a military sergeant reverse Laurence Olivier as Gen. Douglas MacArthur within the Korean Struggle drama Inchon (1981), and performed Burt Reynolds‘ accomplice in a private-eye enterprise in Metropolis Warmth (1984).
On the 1977 groundbreaking ABC miniseries Roots, Roundtree took on the pivotal function of carriage driver Sam Bennett, who falls for Leslie Uggams’ Kizzy. (He stated George Hamilton apologized to him for years for the scene that required Hamilton’s character, a slave proprietor, to whip Bennett.)
Roundtree as soon as revealed that he was most pleased with his work in As soon as Upon a Time … When We Had been Coloured (1996) a few Black Mississippi household confronting inequality within the south. His father, who had develop into a Pentecostal minister, had refused to see any of his son’s films till this one.
Dubbed the primary Black motion hero, Roundtree grew to become one of many faces of the Seventies blaxploitation motion when he starred because the street-smart New York sleuth in Shaft (1971), directed by Gordon Parks. Aside from a quick flip within the 1970 comedy What Do You Say to a Bare Woman?, it marked his first big-screen look.
Based mostly on a 1970 novel by Ernest Tidyman, Shaft was initially conceived to be fronted by a white actor. It was Parks who insisted on casting Roundtree, a former mannequin, after recognizing him throughout a cattle name.
“Gordon Parks is Shaft,” Roundtree advised radio station WBUR in a 2019 interview. “The best way he moved, the way in which he talked. He’s probably the most refined, clean individual that I’ve ever met. And to be in his presence and to be part of one thing that he has his stamp on is magical to me.”
Shaft was one among solely three MGM films in 1971 to show a revenue.
“Shaft shouldn’t be an excellent movie, but it surely’s very entertaining,” Vincent Canby wrote in his assessment for The New York Instances. “Shaft is the type of man who can drink 5 fingers of scotch with out gagging or his eyes watering. He strikes via Whitey’s world with excellent ease and aplomb however by no means loses his independence or his consciousness of the place his life is actually at.
“When a good friend of his — a white gay bartender — offers him a slightly hopeful caress, Shaft shouldn’t be threatened, solely amused. He has no id issues, so he can afford to be cheerful beneath circumstances that will ship a lesser hero into the form of character disaster that in a film often ends in a gunfight, or, in any case, a barroom brawl.”
“I’ve had so many individuals from all around the nation — and all around the world, really — come up and say what that movie meant to them again in ’71,” he stated. “It’s heavy.”
Roundtree returned for Shaft’s Huge Rating! (1972) and Shaft in Africa (1973) and performed the detective on a 1973 CBS sequence that lasted simply seven episodes. When the franchise was rejuvenated in 2000 with Samuel L. Jackson starring because the nephew of the famed shamus, Roundtree appeared as his uncle. He and Jackson got here again in 2019 for one more film.
He was born on July 9, 1942, in New Rochelle, New York. His father, John, labored as a rubbish collector and caterer, and his mom, Kathryn, was a maid and a nurse. He attended New Rochelle Excessive Faculty and performed for its undefeated soccer workforce.
After graduating in 1961, Roundtree headed to Southern Illinois College and landed a soccer scholarship as a walk-on, however he left in 1963 to pursue a modeling profession. He was employed by Eunice W. Johnson to look on the Ebony Style Truthful and posed for print advertisements for Salem cigarettes and Duke hair merchandise.
In 1967, Roundtree heeded recommendation from Invoice Cosby and moved to New York to hone his appearing expertise. He joined the Negro Ensemble Firm and labored with the likes of Esther Rolle, Arthur French, Robert Hooks, Rosalind Money, Denise Nicholas and Moses Gunn (later a Shaft co-star).
He was in a Philadelphia theater portraying the boxer in a manufacturing of The Nice White Hope when he heard concerning the Shaft audition.
Due to Parks, the primary movie’s cultural impression went far past a easy crime drama premise. Shaft was one of many first big-screen Black characters to be his personal man and never kowtow to anybody, irrespective of the pores and skin coloration.
“Individuals come up and ask me if we actually want this picture of Shaft the Black Superman. Hell, sure, there’s a spot for John Shaft,” Parks advised Roger Ebert in a 1972 interview. “I used to be overwhelmed by our world premiere on Broadway. Out of the blue, I used to be the perpetrator of a hero. Ghetto youngsters had been coming downtown to see their hero, Shaft, and right here was a Black man on the display they didn’t must be ashamed of. Right here they’d an opportunity to spend their $3 on one thing they needed to see. We’d like films concerning the historical past of our folks, sure, however we’d like heroic fantasies about our folks, too. All of us want just a little James Bond at times.”
Shaft‘s success was fueled by its title tune, written and sung by Issac Hayes; he carried out it on the 1972 Academy Awards ceremony and gained the Oscar for greatest authentic track.
Roundtree revisited his blaxploitation roots by showing in Authentic Gangstas (1996), a homage to the style that additionally starred Fred Williamson, Jim Brown and Pam Grier.
His different options included Earthquake (1974), Escape to Athena (1979), Opposing Drive (1986), Maniac Cop (1988), Seven (1995), George of the Jungle (1997), Corky Romano (2001), Brick (2005), Pace Racer (2008)and What Males Need (2019).
On tv, he performed non-public eye “Ice” McAdams on CBS’ Outlaws, the disgraced physician Daniel Reubens on the NBC daytime cleaning soap opera Generations, a fireplace station commander on the WB Community’s Rescue 77, the cold-blooded Mr. Shaw on ABC’s Determined Housewives and the cryptic Charles Deveaux on NBC’s Heroes.
His small-screen résumé additionally included recurring roles on Soul Meals, Roc, Chicago Fireplace, Being Mary Jane and Household Reunion.
Roundtree was married to Mary Jane Grant from 1963-73 and to Karen Michelle Ciernia from 1980-98. Survivors embrace his daughters, Kelli, Nicole, Tayler and Morgan, and a son, John.
Roundtree wasn’t at all times so cool with being typecast throughout his profession, however he finally got here to simply accept it, he stated.
His father “was out visiting me in L.A., and I used to be complaining about [how] 24/7, the Shaft character comes up,” he recalled, “and he says, ‘Son, let me let you know one thing. Lots of people go away this Earth not being recognized for something. Shut up.’”