A heartfelt outpouring of condolences and tributes has followed the announcement of the death of legendary actor Richard Roundtree, whose career in Hollywood that kicked off the “Blaxploitation” era of films is credited in part for changing the trajectory of movie roles for leading Black male actors.
Roundtree, who played the iconic eponymous detective in the Shaft series of movies in the 1970s, died on Tuesday at the age of 81 from pancreatic cancer, Patrick McMinn, his longtime manager, confirmed in a statement published by Variety.
McMinn underscored Roundtree’s understated and lasting influence in Hollywood.
“Richard’s work and career served as a turning point for African American leading men in film,” McMinn said. “The impact he had on the industry cannot be overstated.”
Plenty of other Black actors and actresses and others in the larger Hollywood filmmaking community feel the same way if the nonstop stream of social media tributes to Roundtree is any indication.
Samuel L. Jackson, perhaps the most successful beneficiary of the Hollywood road to success as a leading Black man that was paved in part by Roundtree, called the acting legend an “idol” and a mentor.
“The passing of Richard Roundtree is a real blow,” Jackson, who starred in the Shaft reboot in 2019, wrote in a social media post. “Loved being around him, learning, working, laughing & feeling Blessed to have an idol live up to who I expected him to be!! Thanks for making us feel REAL GOOD about ourselves!”
Roundtree didn’t only influence Black male actors, as Sheryl Lee Ralph showed.
“When I was a teenager I use to dream about growing up to meet Richard Roundtree,” Ralph wrote. “I did and what a wonderful human being.”
Gabrielle Union, who co-starred with Roundtree on the TV series Being Mary Jane, called Roundtree “the best” in a social media eulogy.
”Working with Richard Roundtree was a dream. Getting to hang with him & our Being Mary Jane family was always a good ass time with the best stories & laughs,” Union wrote. “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. #RIPRichardRoundtree.”
Carl Weathers, who carved out a niche for himself playing tough guys on the big screen a la Roundtree, emphasized how much of a trailblazer the late actor was.
“The original SHAFT!!! His performance influenced so many and so much,” Weathers wrote. “And he was a great guy!”
“Richard Roundtree AKA ‘SHAFT’ He was a Bad Mother…… ‘Shut Your Mouth’,” actor Leon wrote. “I knew Richard and had the pleasure of working with him. You will be missed, bro!”
“My heart hurts to hear this beautiful legendary actor/pioneer has passed,” Holly Robinson Peete wrote. “Blessed to have known him and worked with him on 21 Jump Street AND Hangin With Mr. Cooper. I gave him his flowers every chance I got Rest In Peace, Richard Roundtree.”
“Sad to hear of the passing of Richard Roundtree,” Loni Love wrote. “He was fabulous as John Shaft at a time when there were few leading Black men in film. He put the sexy and cool in being a detective. Rest well. Condolences to his family.”
“I have no words for this loss. Richard, you have made such a lasting impact on my life,” Tia Mowry, who worked with Roundtree on the Family Reunion TV series, wrote on Instagram. “I am forever grateful for your warm energy, your light, your heart, and your incredible wisdom.”
Mowry added: “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.”
Omari Hardwick, star of the hit cable crime drama Power, added Roundtree influenced the way he portrayed his character for that show.
“You meant SO much to SO many! Especially me! As a black American artisan…i will forever be as indebted to you & your shoulders as i am to Malcolm, Martin, Muhammad, Mandela, Sydney, Harry, Cicely, Ossie, Ruby, Yaphet, Gordon, Melvin, Langston, Maya, Billie, Marvin, Donny, James, Sam, Michael, Prince, Tupac & the likes,” Hardwick wrote on Instagram. “The character Ghost i had the honor of helping to bring to light & ‘life’ was undoubtedly a consistent homage to the timeless work you created & left us with. SMOOTH in all things life & art. Rest in your eternal paradise & power King Richard.”
Taraji P. Henson, who starred in the movie What Men Want with Roundtree, simply wrote in a social media post: “Rest in paradise.”
The tributes and condolences are likely to keep coming in the wake of Roundtree’s death in a collective testament to the indelible mark he left not only on Hollywood but also on the Black actors and actresses who have come behind him.
May Richard Roundtree rest in peace and power.
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