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Richard Roundtree, "Shaft" actor, dies at age 81

Richard Roundtree, the actor best known for portraying detective John Shaft in the 1971 film "Shaft," has died, his representative told CBS News. He was 81.

Roundtree died Tuesday at his home in Los Angeles following a brief battle with pancreatic cancer, his representative, Patrick McMinn, said.

Roundtree's career in film and television spanned more than 50 years, including his appearance in five "Shaft" movies and a notable role as Sam Bennett in the iconic 1977 TV miniseries "Roots."

Shaft's Big Score!
Actor Richard Roundtree on the set of the movie "Shaft's Big Score!" Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Gordon Parks' "Shaft" was Roundtree's feature film debut. Prior to his breakout, he had worked as a model and stage actor. "Shaft" was an instant success and was followed by two sequels in the next two years, "Shaft's Big Score!" and "Shaft in Africa." 

He reprised the role in 2000's "Shaft," starring Samuel L. Jackson, and then once more in the 2019 installment of the franchise, also titled "Shaft."

"Richard Roundtree, The Prototype, The Best To Ever Do It!! SHAFT, as we know it is & will always be His Creation!! His passing leaves a deep hole not only in my heart, but I'm sure a lotta y'all's, too," Jackson wrote on Instagram.  

Roundtree has also appeared in dozens of TV shows, including recurring roles in "Generations," an NBC soap opera that ran from 1989-1991, "Heroes" and the BET series "Being Mary Jane."

Roundtree was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1993 and was successfully treated. He told ABC News in 2009 that he had not told anybody about the diagnosis or treatment for years.

"I was in the closet, so to speak, until after the fifth year when I was cancer-free," he told the outlet. He said he finally opened up about his experience during a celebrity golf tournament that was raising money for a mobile breast cancer diagnostic unit.

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