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Richard Roundtree, first Black action hero, passes at 81

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Richard Roundtree, the famous actor who starred in ‘Shaft’ and ‘Roots’, died of pancreatic cancer on Tuesday at 81.

His manager Patrick McMinn confirmed the news with the Hollywood Reporter, which described Roundtree as “the ultracool actor who helped open the door to a generation of Black filmmakers and performers with his portrayal of private eye John Shaft.”

Stepping onto the scene as the lead actor for ‘Shaft’ in 1971, Roundtree’s portrayal of a suave private eye brought melanin to millions of moviegoers during a time when Sidney Poitier remained one of the few Black leads in Hollywood.

Roundtree became known as the first Black action hero.

The birth and death of legendary Richard Roundtree

Born in New Rochelle, New York on July 9, 1942, Roundtree would go on to act in over 100 film and television projects, according to IMDB.

Blessed with physical talent and a photogenic face, Richard Roundtree attended Southern Illinois University on a football scholarship. He went on to model for the Ebony Fashion Fair, which toured 79 cities in 90 days.

From there, he left school to attend acting lessons. After joining New York’s acclaimed Negro Ensemble Company, he eventually received his big break–a lead role in the action film ‘Shaft.’

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Ultimately, Richard Roundtree’s battle with cancer began in 1993, when he was first diagnosed with breast cancer. He eventually beat it and called himself a survivor.

“Breast cancer is not gender specific,” Roundtree said in ’97. “And men have this cavalier attitude about health issues. 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.”

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