Actor Richard Roundtree Dead at 81

Richard Roundtree, best known for his leading role in the iconic 1970s Shaft film franchise and the TV series Roots, has died. He was 81.

His manager Patrick Mann confirmed to PEOPLE that the actor died Tuesday at his home with his family by his bedside in Los Angeles from pancreatic cancer.

“Artists & Representatives Agency mourns the loss of our friend and client Richard Roundtree,” the actor’s agency said in a statement to PEOPLE. “His trailblazing career changed the face of entertainment around the globe and his enduring legacy will be felt for generations to come. Our hearts are with his family and loved ones during this difficult time.”

Gabrielle Union, who starred alongside the actor in the BET TV series, Being Mary Jane, reflected on her time with Roundtree in a tribute on X. “Working with Richard Roundtree was a dream. Getting to hang with him & our Being Mary Jane family was always a good ass time with the best stories & laughs.”

She added, “He was ALWAYS the coolest man in the room with the BEST vibes & ppl would literally run over to come see him. He was simply the best & we all loved him.”

Samuel L. Jackson, who played Roundtree’s nephew in the 2000 and 2019 Shaft sequels, called the actor “The Prototype, The Best To Ever Do It!!

Sheryl Lee Ralph also paid tribute to Roundtree on X, writing, “When I was a teenager I use to dream about growing up to meet Richard Roundtree. I did and what a wonderful human being.”

The star was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1993 and became an advocate for early detection and screening of breast cancer in men.

“I didn’t have a vote, I had to speak about it,” Roundtree told radio station WBUR in 2019. “Breast cancer is not gender specific. And men have this cavalier attitude about health issues. And I got such positive feedback because I spoke out about it and it’s been quite a number of years now. I’m a survivor.”

Roundtree was born on July 9, 1942, in New Rochelle, New York, where he attended the local high school and played on the football team. He won a scholarship to play football at Southern Illinois University in 1961 but dropped out in 1963 to pursue acting and modeling. Richard Roundtree.

In 1967, he joined the Negro Ensemble Company and got his big acting break when he was cast as Black heavyweight boxing champion Jack Johnson in the theater company’s production of The Great White Hope.

Roundtree then starred in his most notable roles as private eye John Shaft in Shaft (1971) and its sequels. He later appeared in the 2000 and 2019 Shaft films, which starred Samuel L. Jackson as his nephew. He was also known for Earthquake (1974) and Soul Food (2000) among several other film and TV appearances, totaling 159 acting credits.

The last time we talked to Richard was in 2018 when he told us about filming ‘Shaft’ reboots with Samuel L.

Richard was 81.


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