‘Shaft’ Actor Richard Roundtree Dies at 81; Condolences Pour In from Tia Mowry, Gabrielle Union, Samuel Jackson, and More

Richard Roundtree, who was best known for his role as John Shaft in the 1970’s Blaxploitation film series “Shaft,” has passed away at the age of 81.

The actor’s manager, Patrick McMinn told People that the iconic star died on Tuesday, Oct. 24 after a battle with pancreatic cancer. Roundtree reportedly passed away at his Los Angeles home surrounded by his family.

In a statement to the outlet, Roundtree’s agency said, “Artists & Representatives Agency mourns the loss of our friend and client Richard Roundtree. 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.”

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Legendary "Shaft" actor Richard Roundtree dies at the age of 81 due to pancreatic cancer.
Legendary “Shaft” actor Richard Roundtree dies at the age of 81 following a battle with pancreatic cancer. (Photo:@officialrichardroundtree/Instagram)

The actor was recently in Ava Duvernay’s TV series “Cherish the Day,” and Netflix’s “Family Reunion.” Thoughts and prayers from many of Roundtree’s costars, contemporaries, and fans came in as news of his death spread around.

Samuel L. Jackson, who took on the role as Roundtree’s son in the 2000 and 2019 movies of the same title, showed his appreciation for the trailblazer in an Instagram post. Jackson, who played John Shaft Jr. wrote, “Richard Roundtree, The Prototype, The Best To Ever Do It!! SHAFT, as we know it is & will always be His Creation!!

He continued, “His passing leaves a deep hole not only in my heart, but I’m sure a lotta y’all’s, too. Love you Brother, I see you walking down the Middle of Main Street in Heaven & Issac’s Conducting your song coat blowin’ in wind!! Angels whispering, “That Cat SHAFT Is A Bad Mutha, Shutcho Mouth!! But I’m Talkin’ Bout SHAFT!! THEN WE CAN DIGIT.”

Tia Mowry, who played Roundtree’s daughter-in-law on the Netflix series “Family Reunion,” also gave her heartfelt tribute in honor of his passing. “I have no words for this loss Richard,” Mowry said, “You have made such a lasting impact on my life. I am forever grateful for your warm energy, your light, your heart, and your incredible wisdom.”

She continued, “I will miss you and our times together in our trailers – you teaching me the right way to take down some whiskey. I love you. Thank you for blessing this world with your gifts Rest in Power #RichardRoundtree.”

The acting veteran also played Gabrielle Union‘s father in BET’s “Being Mary Jane,” and she shared the impact her on-screen father had in her life.

“Working with Richard Roundtree was a dream. Getting to hang with him & our Being Mary Jane family was always a good a— time with the best stories & laughs. 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,” she shared.

More love poured in for the actor as people gave their condolences and paid their respects to the man some know as the “first Black action movie hero.”

Singer-songwriter and the original Dorothy from the Broadway musical “The Wiz” Stephanie Mills said, “My goodness I am heartbroken and saddened by the loss of another legend. I was so glad to have him watch me perform this summer. It was a great honor to meet him with my manager @ampharris in Indianapolis at Indiana Black Expo. RIP Mr. #Richardroundtree.”

“You epitomized Black manhood on-screen when we so desperately needed it,” added actress Viola Davis in her own Instagram post. “The strength, authority, the mystery and ownership of sexuality seared through the screen and into our lives. You left us with that. Rest well Mr. Roundtree… May flights of angels

Singer Isaac Hayes III also gave a tribute to Roundtree on X (Twitter). “The Hayes family would like to share our sadness with the loss of Richard Roundtree, a true icon,” Hayes said, “His legendary role as SHAFT, transcended the screen, defining an era. Rest in power, Richard. #RichardRoundtree #Legend.”

Some of Roundtree’s other notable acting roles include roles on “Desperate Housewives,” “Men Cry in the Dark,” and series such as “Soul Food,” “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” “Generations” and “Roots.”

Roundtree was a hero on the silver screen, but he was also one in real life, as he brought awareness to male breast cancer. In the year 2000, the “Outlaws” star opened up to people about his battle with the disease. “I’m not embarrassed,” Roundtree said to People, “Breast cancer is unusual in men, yes, but you have to be a man to get through this.”

He reportedly had to undergo a modified mastectomy and six months of chemotherapy, which left him struggling to get out of bed. Roundtree said he hid his diagnosis at first, but after beating the disease he told everyone he could. “It makes it easier for others who may be going through the same thing,” he said.

Roundtree is survived by his five children.

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