Home Entertainment Richard Roundtree, Star of ‘Shaft,’ Dies at 81

Richard Roundtree, Star of ‘Shaft,’ Dies at 81

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Richard Roundtree, Star of ‘Shaft,’ Dies at 81

Richard Roundtree, the actor who redefined African American masculinity within the films when he performed the title position in “Shaft,” one of many first Black motion heroes, died on Tuesday at his house in Los Angeles. He was 81.

His supervisor, Patrick McMinn, mentioned the trigger was pancreatic most cancers, which had been identified two months in the past.

“Shaft,” which was launched in 1971, was among the many first of the so-called blaxploitation films, and it made Mr. Roundtree a film star at 29.

The character John Shaft is his personal man, a personal detective who jaywalks confidently by way of shifting Times Square site visitors in a good-looking brown leather-based coat with the collar turned up; sports activities a strong, darkish mustache someplace between walrus-style and a downturned handlebar; and retains a pearl-handled revolver within the fridge in his Greenwich Village duplex residence. As Mr. Roundtree noticed in a 1972 article in The New York Times, he’s “a Black man who is for once a winner.”

In addition to catapulting Mr. Roundtree to fame, the film drew consideration to its theme tune, written and carried out by Isaac Hayes, which received the 1972 Academy Award for finest unique tune. It described Shaft as “a sex machine to all the chicks,” “a bad mother” and “the cat who won’t cop out when there’s danger all about.” Can you dig it? The director Gordon Parks’s gritty city cinematography served as punctuation.

A fictional product of his unenlightened pre-feminist period, Shaft was residing the Playboy journal reader’s dream, with lovely ladies accessible to him as keen, downright grateful, intercourse companions. And he didn’t at all times deal with them with respect. Some referred to as him, for higher or worse, the Black James Bond.

He performed the position once more in “Shaft’s Big Score!” (1972), which bumped up the chase scenes to incorporate speedboats and helicopters and the attractive ladies to incorporate unique dancers and different males’s mistresses. In that film, Shaft investigated the homicide of a numbers runner, utilizing greater weapons and ignoring one criminal’s pleasant recommendation to “keep the hell out of Queens.”

In “Shaft in Africa” (1973), filmed largely in Ethiopia, the character posed as an Indigenous man to show a criminal offense ring that exploited immigrants being smuggled into Europe. The second sequel misplaced cash and led to a CBS sequence that lasted solely seven weeks.

But the movies had made their affect. As the movie critic Maurice Peterson noticed in Essence journal, “Shaft” was “the first picture to show a Black man who leads a life free from racial torment.”

Richard Arnold Roundtree was born on July 9, 1942 (some sources say 1937), in New Rochelle, N.Y., the son of John and Kathryn (Watkins) Roundtree, who have been recognized within the 1940 census as a butler and a cook dinner in the identical family.

Richard performed on New Rochelle High School’s undefeated soccer workforce and, after graduating in 1961, attended Southern Illinois University on a soccer scholarship. But he dropped out of school in 1963 after he spent a summer time as a mannequin with the Ebony Fashion Fair, a touring presentation sponsored by a number one news and tradition journal for Black readers.

He moved again to New York, labored various jobs and shortly started his theater profession, becoming a member of the Negro Ensemble Company. His first position was in a 1967 manufacturing of “The Great White Hope,” starring as a fictionalized model of Jack Johnson, the early twentieth century’s first Black heavyweight boxing champion. A Broadway manufacturing starring James Earl Jones opened the subsequent yr and received three main Tony Awards and the Pulitzer Prize for drama.

After “Shaft,” Mr. Roundtree made diverse selections in film roles. He was within the all-star ensemble solid, which additionally included Charlton Heston and Ava Gardner, of the 1974 catastrophe film “Earthquake.” He performed the title position in “Man Friday” (1975), a vibrant, beneficiant, in the end extra civilized associate to Peter O’Toole’s Seventeenth-century explorer Robinson Crusoe.

In “Inchon” (1981), which Vincent Canby of The Times described as wanting like “the most expensive B movie ever made,” he was an Army officer on the employees of Gen. Douglas MacArthur (Laurence Olivier) in Korea. He starred with Clint Eastwood and Burt Reynolds in “City Heat” (1984) and with an enormous flying lizard in “Q” (1982).

On the small display screen he performed Sam Bennett, the raffish carriage driver who courted Kizzie (Leslie Uggams), within the acclaimed mini-series “Roots” (1977). That present was transformational, Mr. Roundtree mentioned in an ABC particular celebrating its twenty fifth anniversary: “You got a sense of white Americans saying, ‘Damn, that really happened.’”

Mr. Roundtree’s title remained related to the Seventies, however he was simply as busy in the course of the subsequent 4 many years.

He was an amoral non-public detective in a five-episode story arc of “Desperate Housewives” (2004); appeared in 60 episodes of the cleaning soap opera “Generations” (1990); and performed Booker T. Washington within the 1999 tv film “Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters’ First 100 Years.” He was a big-city district lawyer within the movie “Seven” (1995) and a strong-willed Mississippi iceman in “Once Upon a Time … When We Were Colored” (1996).

After the yr 2000, when he was pushing 60, he made appearances in additional than 25 small-screen sequence (he was a solid member of or had recurring roles in 9 of them — together with “Heroes,” “Being Mary Jane” and “Family Reunion”) and was seen in half a dozen tv films and greater than 20 function movies.

In 2020, he starred as a fishing boat’s gray-bearded captain in “Haunting of the Mary Celeste,” a supernatural maritime film thriller. In 2022, he acted in an episode of “Cherish the Day,” Ava DuVernay’s romantic drama sequence.

Mr. Roundtree married Mary Jane Grant in 1963. They had two youngsters earlier than divorcing in 1973. In 1980, he married Karen M. Cierna. They had three youngsters and divorced in 1998.

Mr. Roundtree is survived by 4 daughters, Kelli, Nicole, Taylor and Morgan; a son, John; and at the very least one grandchild.

The Shaft character, created by Ernest Tidyman in a sequence of Seventies novels, endured — with Hollywood alterations. Samuel L. Jackson starred as a personality with the identical title, supposedly the primary John Shaft’s nephew, in a 2000 sequel titled “Shaft.”

In 2019, one other “Shaft” was launched, additionally starring Mr. Jackson (now mentioned to be the unique character’s son) and Jessie T. Usher as his son, J.J. Shaft, an M.I.T.-educated cybersecurity professional. The movie felt one thing like a buddy-cops comedy, however the smartest factor it did, Owen Gleiberman of Variety famous in a evaluate, was to take Mr. Roundtree, “bald, with a snowy-white beard,” and “turn him into a character who’s hotter, and cooler, than anyone around him” and whose “spirit is spry, and tougher than leather.”

Orlando Mayorquin contributed reporting.

Source web site: www.nytimes.com