Actor Richard Roundtree, best known for his iconic role as private investigator John Shaft in a series of films in the 1970s, has succumbed to pacreatic cancer, passing away in Los Angeles on October 24, 2023. He was 81.

Richard Roundtree made an indellible impression on modern popular culture in the role of John Shaft, a fictional character created by Ernest Tidyman for the 1970 novel Shaft. He was portrayed by Richard Roundtree in the 1971 film Shaft and its four sequels, the first three of which are considered “blaxploitation” movies.

In the original film, Shaft is a private detective who is hired by a Harlem mobster to rescue his daughter from Italian mobsters. Shaft is known as the toughest private eye on the streets. He stops gang wars from breaking out between the Mafia and Harlem’s gangsters. 

The Shaft franchise consists of five action-crime feature films and seven television films. The franchise is centered on a family of African-American police detectives all sharing the name John Shaft. 

The 1971 film Shaft was Oscar-winning and introduced the African American action hero into mainstream cinema. The film established Parks as the first black director of a major Hollywood studio film.

In addition to starring in Shaft (1971), Shaft’s Big Score (1972), Shaft in Africa (1973), and a 1973-74 TV show, also called Shaft, Richard Roundtree played Uncle Joe in the superhero movie, Steel (1997) and the horror film The Haunting of the Mary Celeste(2020).

Roundtree’s contribution to the science fiction and fantasy genres are noteworthy. In the short-lived but not yet forgotten western time travel TV show Outlaws, he co-starred as the dapper, debonair Isaiah “Ice” McAdams, the 19th century outlaw who adapted to the 20th century better than his colleagues did. Roundtree also appeared in the horror film Amityville: The Next Generation (1993) as Pauli and in Speed Racer (2008) as Ben Burns a race commentator and a former race car driver.

He had the title role of the sympathetic Man Friday to Peter O’Toole’s barbaric Robinson Crusoe in Friday (1975) In the Shaft reboot (2009), Richard Roundtree returned to the world of P.I. John Shaft, this time playing Samuel L. Jackson‘s uncle.

Richard Roundtree was born July 9, 1942 in New Rochelle, New York. He died October 24, 2023 in Los Angeles, California. He died of pancreatic cancer. He was married and divorced twice and had five children. From 1963 to 1973, he was married to Mary Jane grant, with whom he had two children. From 1980 to 1993, Roundtree was married to Karen Ciernia, with whom he had three children.

He is survived by his four daughters, Nicole, Tayler, Morgan and Kelli Roundtree, and his son, James, to whom we offer our comfort and condolences.


Susan Macdonald
Susan Macdonald

Susan Macdonald is the author of the children’s book “R is for Renaissance Faire”, as well as 26 short stories, mostly fantasy in “Alternative Truths”, “Swords and Sorceress ”, Swords &Sorceries Vols. 1, 2, & 5, “Cat Tails” “Under Western Stars”, and “Knee-High Drummond and the Durango Kid”. Her articles have appeared on’s web site, in The Inquisitr, and in The Millington Star. She enjoys Renaissance Faires (see book above), science fiction conventions,  Highland Games, and Native American pow-wows.