American performer Richard Roundtree, acclaimed as “the first Black action hero” for his leading role in the iconic 1971 hit Shaft, passed away on Tuesday at the age of 81, as reported by US media. Hollywood publication Deadline stated that the performer, recognized for pioneering opportunities for other Black artists in the industry, passed away with his family at his bedside, “after a short battle with pancreatic cancer.” Shaft, in which Roundtree portrayed the eponymous private investigator John Shaft, initiated a series of sequels and television spinoffs.
Fifty years later, Roundtree was still engaging in acting, making appearances in the television romance drama Cherish the Day and film comedy Moving On just last year.
“Richard’s work and career served as a pivotal moment for African American leading men in film,” stated his manager Patrick McMinn in a statement to Variety. “The influence he had on the industry cannot be overstated.”
Roundtree’s significant debut, Shaft was hailed as a foundation of the “Blaxploitation” genre that the 1970s were recognized for – which advocates argue addressed race relations while critics condemn the style for perpetuating stereotypes.
Regardless, the genre played a critical role in compelling Hollywood to finally cast Black Americans in leading roles.
“I used to perceive it as a two-edged sword. But I’ve had numerous individuals from all over the country – and even from around the world – come up and express what that film meant to them back in ’71,” Roundtree conveyed to broadcaster NPR in 2019.
“It’s profound.” “On the other hand, I became typecast for quite some time, and then I’ve made a deliberate effort to establish a different aspect of my acting,” he added.
He was largely triumphant in that pursuit, with “his pioneering career (altering) the face of entertainment across the globe,” as stated by his agency to Deadline.
“His lasting legacy will be experienced for generations to come. Our thoughts are with his family and loved ones during this challenging time.”
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)
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