Shaft star Richard Roundtree has died aged 81

The 1970s superstar Richard Roundtree has died at the age of 81.
Roundtree had a long career in Hollywood, his first feature credit coming in 1956, but was most known for his role as John Shaft in the crime thriller Shaft.

Roundtree died on Tuesday afternoon (24 October) after a brief battle with pancreatic cancer.
Roundtree’s manager Patrick McMinn, who had been working with the actor since 1987, confirmed his death.

“Richard’s work and career served as a turning point for African American leading men in film,” McMinn said, reflecting on Roundtree’s work.

“The impact he had on the industry cannot be overstated.”

Despite his first acting credit, playing the leading role in Shaft proved to be a monumental moment for Roundtree in the industry.

The MGM release earned $12 million in ticket sales off of a $500,000 production budget, helping to save the studio from bankruptcy. Roundtree was only 28 at the time.

The films’ success sparked a wave of prolific Blaxploitation films in the coming decade, increasing the exposure of both black actors and actresses as well as filming staff.
Though Roundtree ‘took offense’ to the term when he was asked about Blaxploitation films during a 2019 interview with the New York Times.

“I had the privilege of working with the classiest gentleman possibly that I’ve ever known in the industry, Gordon Parks. So, that word, exploitation, I take offense to with any attachment to Gordon Parks,” he said.

“I’ve always viewed that as a negative. Exploitation. Who’s being exploited? It gave a lot of people work.

"It gave a lot of people entrée into the business, including a lot of our present-day producers and directors. So, in the big picture, I view it as a positive.”

The crime film’s success resulted in two sequels, Shaft’s Big Score and Shaft in Africa, releasing in 1972 and 1973.
There was also a Shaft TV series that followed in 1973 to 1974 however, this was short lived with only seven episodes being released.

Reflecting on the attempt of a television series, Roundtree said: “You can’t erase events, but that’s one I wish I could. I had just come back from Shaft in Africa when they tried to convert the character to television.

"It wasn’t going to happen. That was an ugly point in my long, illustrious career.”

Attempts to revive the ‘bad mother (shut your mouth)’ character have been attempted over the years, however they have had little success.

Most notably director John Singleton’s 2000 revival of the franchise and Tim story’s comedic take on the story in 2019.

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