Richard Roundtree, America’s ‘First Black Action Hero,’ Dies At 81

Richard Roundtree, known as “the first Black action hero” for his performance in the legendary 1971 film “Shaft,” died on Tuesday at the age of 81, according to US media.

According to the Hollywood website Deadline, the actor, who was known for paving the way for other Black artists in the industry, died with his family by his side “after a brief battle with pancreatic cancer.”

“Shaft,” in which Roundtree played the eponymous private eye John Shaft, sparked a series of sequels and a TV spinoff.

Five decades later, Roundtree was still acting and appearing in the television romance drama, “Cherish the Day”, and film comedy “Moving On” just last year.

“Richard’s work and career served as a turning point for African American leading men in film,” his manager Patrick McMinn said in a statement to Variety. “The impact he had on the industry cannot be overstated.”

Roundtree’s major debut, “Shaft” was hailed as a founding classic in the “Blaxploitation” genre the 1970s were known for — which boosters say tackled race relations while critics blast the style for trafficking in stereotypes.

Either way, the genre was critical to pushing Hollywood to cast Black Americans in starring roles finally.

“I used to look at it as a double-edged sword. But I’ve had so many people from all over the country — and all over the world actually — come up and say what that film meant to them back in ’71,” Roundtree told broadcaster NPR in 2019.

“It’s heavy.”

“The other side of it is I got typecast for quite some time, and then I’ve gone out of my way to establish a different side of my acting,” he said.

He was largely successful in that endeavor, with “his trailblazing career (changing) the face of entertainment around the globe,” his agency told Deadline.

“His enduring legacy will be felt for generations to come. Our hearts are with his family and loved ones during this difficult time.”

Written by PH

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