Roundtree had a lengthy career in Hollywood, beginning with his debut movie in 1956, but he is most recognized for his portrayal of John Shaft in the crime thriller Shaft.
After a brief fight with pancreatic cancer, Roundtree died on Tuesday afternoon (October 24).
Patrick McMinn, Roundtree’s manager, who had worked with him since 1987, confirmed his death.
«Richard’s work and career served as a turning point for African American leading men in film,» McMinn stated of Roundtree.
«The impact he had on the industry cannot be overstated.»
Despite being Roundtree’s first acting job, playing the lead in Shaft proved to be a watershed event in his career.
The MGM release made $12 million in ticket sales on a $500,000 production budget, assisting the studio in avoiding bankruptcy. Roundtree was just 28 years old at the time.
The popularity of the films prompted a surge of prolific Blaxploitation films in the next decade, expanding the visibility of both black performers and actresses as well as the film crew.
However, in a 2019 interview with the New York Times, Roundtree ‘took offense’ to the phrase when questioned about Blaxploitation films.
«I had the honor of working with Gordon Parks, the classiest gentleman I’ve ever known in the industry.» So, with any association to Gordon Parks, I take offense to the phrase exploitation,» he stated.
«I’ve always thought of that as a negative. Exploitation. Who is being taken advantage of? It provided employment for a large number of people.
«It gave a lot of people a chance to get into the business, including many of our current producers and directors.» So, in the grand scheme of things, I see it as a good.»
The popularity of the crime picture led to two sequels, Shaft’s Big Score and Shaft in Africa, which were released in 1972 and 1973, respectively.
There was also a Shaft TV series that aired from 1973 to 1974, although it was short-lived, with just seven episodes published.
Roundtree stated of the failed television series effort, «You can’t erase events, but that’s one I wish I could.» I had just returned from Shaft in Africa when they attempted to adapt the role for television.
«It wasn’t going to work. That was a low period in my long and distinguished career.»
Attempts to resurrect the ‘bad mother (stop your mouth)’ persona have met with little success throughout the years.
Specifically, filmmaker John Singleton’s 2000 reboot of the series and Tim Subject’s 2019 comic take on the subject