On Tuesday, October 24, Richard Roundtree, known for his roles on screen, television, and stage, passed away in his Los Angeles home at the age of 81, after recently being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
A native of New Rochelle, New York, Roundtree was a standout on his nationally ranked high school football team before matriculating to Southern Illinois University on an athletic scholarship. He left school to pursue a career in both modeling and acting, and soon began to distinguish himself with the Ebony Fashion Fair and as a member of the historic New York City-based Negro Ensemble Company.
Revered as the world’s “first Black action hero,” stemming from his iconic role in 1971’s Black-film classic “Shaft,” Roundtree’s career spanned 60 years. He would collaborate with “Shaft” director Gordon Parks again, a year later on the sequel, “Shaft’s Big Score,” before starring in the third film in the trilogy and the subsequent television series on CBS.
Over the next half-century, Roundtree starred in over 70 motion pictures and even more TV shows. Among his most notable films were “Earthquake,” “Se7en,” “Original Gangstas,” and reprising his role as John Shaft in the 2000 and 2019 editions of the Shaft franchise starring Samuel L. Jackson as John Shaft, Jr. Memorable television appearances include Alex Haley’s “Roots,” sitcoms “A Different World” and “Roc,” and series “413 Hope Street,” “Desperate Housewives,” “Heroes,” and his critically acclaimed five-season run on one of BET’s highest-rated series, the award-winning drama, “Being Mary Jane.”
It is Roundtree’s connection to Minnesota, and in particular one of the state’s most accomplished artists Gordon Parks, that many, including Park’s great niece, Robin Hickman-Winfield, are remembering today.