Richard Roundtree (1942-2023) RIP Legend
Another day, another death of an icon.
Richard Roundtree, who is best known for his iconic role as the private Detective John Shaft has made the transition at the age of 81.
Originally from Rochester, New York, Roundtree was cast in the 1971 Crime Drama Shaft which the titular character was originally written for a White actor, but with the trend of Blaxploitation films spearheaded by Melvin Peebles’ Sweetback Badass Song, Director Gordon Parks film took advantage of this cultural shift and instantly became a box-office smash that codified Roundtree as the first Black action hero in cinema who went against the norms of having your average Detective archetype starring White actors. It's success further ignited the “Blaxploitation” genre that not only enlisted up and coming black actors, screenwriters and directors within the motion picture industry, but also saved Hollywood from a major slump when there was less audience participation. Roundtree went on to star in two sequels, Shaft in Africa and Shaft's Big Score. Although the Blaxploitation genre was short lived, there were enough films that springboarded the careers of Black actors and rightfully earned its place in Pop culture history. Without Shaft there would be no Coffy, Three the Hard Way, Black Belt Jones, Gordon’s War, Sugar Hill, Truck Turner, Cleopatra Jones, Black Caesar, Blacula, and hell..even New Jack City!
Roundtree as Shaft further exemplified Black masculinity in Hollywood, where back then, Black males were used in subservient roles that is until Sidney Poitier slapping a racist, murder-suspect moneybags in “In the Heat of the Night” and Duane Jones who slapped a sanctimonious jerk in George A Romero's "Night of the Living Dead," changed the game.
The actor was featured alongside Pam Grier, Jim Brown, Ron o' Neal, Paul Winfield, and Fred Williamson in the ensemble cast actioner "Original Gangsters” that was a love letter to the genre that gave him prominence. Think of it as one of the first "Expendables. "
Aside from the Shaft films, Roundtree starred in a few other projects, one was 1974's Earthquake featuring Charlton Heston. Richard's character "Miles Quade" was a Motorcycle Daredevil whose uniform served as an inspiration for DC Comics' Black Lightning design.
Roundtree's Shaft intro also inspired the opening sequence for 1977's Saturday Night Fever where both protagonists are seen walking through the streets. John Badham's movie even borrowed Isaac Hayes' signature line, "Can you dig it?" ("I knew that you could!")
Several decades later, Roundtree reprised his role in the 2000 Shaft reboot starring Samuel L. Jackson. The less said about Steel and Shaft (2019) the better. Roundtree died Oct 24 of pancreatic cancer surrounded by his family.
Thank you, Richard.