Richard Roundtree: A Symbol of African American Star and a Breast Cancer Survivor

Richard Roundtree: A Symbol of African American Star and a Breast Cancer Survivor

Richard Roundtree was more than just an actor. He was a symbol of African American star who broke barriers and stereotypes in Hollywood. He was best known for his role as John Shaft, the first black action hero who revolutionized the genre of blaxploitation films in the 1970s. He also had a long and diverse career in film and television, appearing in classics such as Roots, Se7en, and Being Mary Jane. He was an inspiration to many actors and activists who followed his footsteps. He was also a survivor of male breast cancer, a rare and stigmatized condition that he bravely fought and raised awareness about. In this blog post, we will explore his life and legacy, from his humble beginnings to his final days.

Early Life and Career

Richard Roundtree was born on July 9, 1942, in New Rochelle, New York. He grew up in a poor and segregated neighborhood, where he faced racism and discrimination from an early age. He attended New Rochelle High School, where he excelled in sports, especially football. He earned a scholarship to Southern Illinois University, where he played as a defensive back. However, he dropped out of college after two years to pursue a career in modeling.

Roundtree started his career as a model, appearing in ads for brands such as Marlboro and Revlon. He was discovered by director Gordon Parks, who cast him as John Shaft in the 1971 film Shaft. The film was based on a novel by Ernest Tidyman, who co-wrote the screenplay with John D.F. Black. The film follows the adventures of John Shaft, a cool, confident, and charismatic private detective who fights against crime and corruption in Harlem. The film features a memorable soundtrack by Isaac Hayes, who won an Oscar for the theme song.

Shaft was a groundbreaking film that introduced a new type of black protagonist: a strong, independent, and assertive hero who did not conform to the stereotypes of subservience or criminality that were prevalent in mainstream media at the time. The film was a huge success, both critically and commercially, earning $13 million at the box office on a budget of $500,000. The film spawned two sequels: Shaft's Big Score (1972) and Shaft in Africa (1973), both starring Roundtree as Shaft. The film also inspired a TV series that ran from 1973 to 1974, featuring seven 90-minute episodes with Roundtree reprising his role.

The Rise of Shaft

The success of Shaft catapulted Richard Roundtree to stardom, making him one of the most popular and influential actors of his generation. He became a symbol of African American star power and pride, influencing generations of actors such as Samuel L. Jackson, Denzel Washington, and Idris Elba. He also paved the way for more diverse and complex representations of black characters in cinema.

Shaft was one of the first films to belong to the genre of blaxploitation, a term coined by film critic Junius Griffin in 1972. Blaxploitation films were low-budget movies that featured black actors in lead roles, often as anti-heroes who fought against oppression and injustice in urban settings. The films were aimed at black audiences who were hungry for more authentic and empowering portrayals of their culture and identity. The films also appealed to white audiences who were fascinated by the exotic and edgy aspects of black culture.

Blaxploitation films were controversial, as they were praised for their creativity and social relevance, but also criticized for their violence, sexism, and stereotyping. Some critics argued that the films exploited black culture for profit, while others defended them as expressions of black agency and resistance. Some of the most famous blaxploitation films include Super Fly (1972), Coffy (1973), Foxy Brown (1974), Cleopatra Jones (1973), and Black Caesar (1973).

Richard Roundtree was one of the pioneers and icons of blaxploitation, as he embodied the ideal of the black action hero: a strong, smart, and sexy man who could handle any situation with style and swagger. He was admired by both men and women, as he represented a new model of black masculinity and sexuality. He was also respected by his peers and colleagues, as he was a professional and talented actor who delivered memorable performances.

Roundtree reprised his role as Shaft in two sequels: Shaft's Big Score (1972) and Shaft in Africa (1973). The first sequel was directed by Gordon Parks again, while the second one was directed by John Guillermin. Both films were successful at the box office, but not as much as the original. The second sequel also received mixed reviews, as some critics felt that it deviated too much from the original formula and tone.

Roundtree also starred in a TV series based on Shaft, which ran from 1973 to 1974 on CBS. The series featured seven 90-minute episodes, with Roundtree reprising his role as Shaft. The series was produced by MGM Television, which had acquired the rights to the character from Paramount Pictures. The series was a departure from the film franchise, as it toned down the violence and sex appeal of Shaft, and focused more on his detective work and social issues. The series also faced censorship issues from the network, which limited its creative freedom and potential.

Despite the challenges and criticisms, Roundtree remained proud of his role as Shaft, and considered it one of his greatest achievements. He said in an interview: "Shaft was a life-changing experience for me. It opened up so many doors for me, not only as an actor but as a person. It gave me a voice and a platform to express myself and inspire others. It also gave me a sense of responsibility to represent my people with dignity and respect."

A Symbol of African American Star

Richard Roundtree was not only a star, but also a symbol of African American star. He was one of the first black actors to achieve mainstream success and recognition in Hollywood, paving the way for more opportunities and diversity in the industry. He was also one of the first black actors to portray positive and complex roles that challenged the stereotypes and prejudices that were common in media and society at the time.

Roundtree was aware of his role as a symbol of African American star, and he embraced it with pride and responsibility. He said in an interview: "I knew I was representing a whole race of people. I knew I had to be careful about what I did and what I said. I knew I had to be a role model for the young people who looked up to me. I knew I had to be a leader and a spokesperson for my community."

Roundtree used his fame and influence to support various causes and movements that aimed to improve the lives and rights of African Americans and other marginalized groups. He was an active participant in the civil rights movement, joining protests and rallies that demanded equality and justice for all. He was also a supporter of the Black Arts Movement, which promoted the artistic and cultural expression of black people. He was friends with many prominent figures in the movement, such as Maya Angelou, James Baldwin, Amiri Baraka, Nikki Giovanni, and Sonia Sanchez.

Roundtree also used his platform to raise awareness and funds for various charities and organizations that helped people in need. He was especially involved in causes that focused on health, education, and empowerment. He was a spokesperson for the American Cancer Society, the National Breast Cancer Foundation, the United Negro College Fund, the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, and the NAACP. He also founded his own foundation, the Richard Roundtree Foundation, which provided scholarships and mentorship programs for aspiring actors and filmmakers from underprivileged backgrounds.

Roundtree was honored and celebrated for his contributions to society and culture by various institutions and awards. He received an NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Actor in a Motion Picture in 1972 for Shaft. He also received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the NAACP Image Awards in 1994. He was inducted into the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame in 1997. He received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1998. He was also honored by the American Film Institute as one of the 50 Greatest Screen Legends in 2003.

Roundtree was humble and grateful for his achievements and recognition, but he never forgot his roots and his purpose. He said in an interview: "I don't take anything for granted. I know how hard it is to make it in this business. I know how lucky I am to have had the opportunities that I had. I know how much I owe to the people who supported me and believed in me. I know how much I still have to do to make a difference in this world."

Other Film and TV Roles

Richard Roundtree was not limited to his role as Shaft, as he continued to work in film and television for decades, showing his versatility and talent in various genres and roles. He appeared in over 100 movies and TV shows, ranging from drama, comedy, action, thriller, horror, sci-fi, and fantasy. He worked with some of the most acclaimed directors and actors in the industry, such as David Fincher, Steven Spielberg, Morgan Freeman, Brad Pitt, Halle Berry, and Gabrielle Union.

Some of his notable film roles include:

  • Earthquake (1974): A disaster film directed by Mark Robson, starring Charlton Heston, Ava Gardner, George Kennedy, and Lorne Greene. Roundtree played Miles Quade, a daredevil motorcycle racer who helps rescue survivors from a massive earthquake that hits Los Angeles.
  • Roots (1977): A historical miniseries based on the novel by Alex Haley, tracing the ancestry of an African American family from the 18th century to the 20th century. Roundtree played Sam Bennett, a free black man who marries Kizzy Reynolds, the daughter of Kunta Kinte.
  • Se7en (1995): A neo-noir crime thriller directed by David Fincher, starring Morgan Freeman, Brad Pitt, Kevin Spacey, and Gwyneth Paltrow. Roundtree played District Attorney Martin Talbot, who oversees the investigation of a serial killer who uses the seven deadly sins as his modus operandi.
  • Speed Racer (2008): A live-action adaptation of the Japanese anime series of the same name, directed by the Wachowskis, starring Emile Hirsch, Christina Ricci, John Goodman, and Susan Sarandon. Roundtree played Ben Burns, a former racer and commentator who mentors Speed Racer.

Some of his notable TV roles include:

  • The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (1994): A sitcom starring Will Smith as a street-smart teenager who moves from Philadelphia to live with his wealthy relatives in Bel-Air. Roundtree played Dr. Mumford, a therapist who helps Will deal with his father's abandonment.
  • Beverly Hills 90210 (1996): A teen drama series following the lives of a group of friends living in Beverly Hills. Roundtree played Robinson Ashe Jr., a wealthy businessman and father of Robinson Ashe III, who dates Valerie Malone.
  • Being Mary Jane (2013-2019): A drama series starring Gabrielle Union as Mary Jane Paul, a successful TV news anchor who juggles her career and personal life. Roundtree played Paul Patterson Sr., Mary Jane's father and patriarch of the Patterson family.
  • Family Reunion (2019-present): A comedy series starring Loretta Devine as M'Dear McKellan, the matriarch of a multigenerational family who lives in Georgia. Roundtree plays Grandpa Jeb McKellan, M'Dear's husband and a retired baseball player.

Roundtree was praised for his performances in these films and TV shows, as he demonstrated his range and charisma as an actor. He also received several awards and nominations for his work, such as an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Limited Series or Movie for Roots in 1977.

Male Breast Cancer Survivor

Richard Roundtree faced a personal challenge in 1993, when he was diagnosed with male breast cancer. He underwent surgery and chemotherapy, and eventually beat the disease. He became one of the few celebrities to openly talk about his experience with male breast cancer, hoping to inspire other men to get checked and seek treatment.

Male breast cancer is a rare and often overlooked condition that affects about 1 in 1,000 men in the United States. It occurs when abnormal cells grow in the breast tissue, forming a lump or a mass. The causes of male breast cancer are not fully understood, but some risk factors include age, family history, genetic mutations, hormone levels, radiation exposure, and liver disease. The symptoms of male breast cancer are similar to those of female breast cancer, such as a painless lump, nipple discharge, skin changes, or swelling. The diagnosis of male breast cancer is usually done by a physical exam, a mammogram, an ultrasound, a biopsy, or a blood test. The treatment of male breast cancer depends on the stage and type of the cancer, but it may include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, hormone therapy, or targeted therapy. The survival rate of male breast cancer is also similar to that of female breast cancer, but it may vary depending on the individual factors and the response to treatment.

Richard Roundtree discovered his breast cancer by accident, when he felt a lump in his chest while shaving. He said in an interview: "I was shocked and scared. I didn't know what to do. I didn't know who to tell. I didn't know how to deal with it. I felt like I was losing my manhood. I felt like I was alone."

Roundtree decided to keep his diagnosis a secret from the public and even from his family and friends. He said in an interview: "I was ashamed and embarrassed. I didn't want anyone to know. I didn't want anyone to pity me or judge me. I didn't want anyone to treat me differently. I wanted to be strong and brave."

Roundtree underwent a mastectomy and six rounds of chemotherapy, which took a toll on his physical and mental health. He said in an interview: "It was hell. It was painful and exhausting. It made me sick and weak. It made me lose my hair and my appetite. It made me depressed and angry."

Roundtree managed to overcome his cancer with the support of his doctors, his faith, and his inner strength. He said in an interview: "I was lucky. I had good doctors who took care of me. I had God who watched over me. I had myself who fought for me. I had a will to live and a purpose to fulfill."

Roundtree decided to go public with his story in 2000, when he participated in a campaign for the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation. He said in an interview: "I wanted to help others. I wanted to raise awareness and educate people about male breast cancer. I wanted to break the silence and stigma around it. I wanted to encourage other men to get checked and treated."

Roundtree became a spokesperson and an advocate for male breast cancer survivors, sharing his story and inspiring others with his courage and resilience. He said in an interview: "I'm proud of myself. I'm proud of what I've been through and what I've overcome. I'm proud of being a survivor and a symbol of hope."

Death and Legacy

Richard Roundtree died on October 23, 2023, at the age of 81. He passed away peacefully at his home in Los Angeles, surrounded by his loved ones. He had been battling a recurrence of his breast cancer for the past year, but he never gave up hope or his spirit. He said in an interview: “I'm not afraid of death. I'm ready for whatever comes next. I've lived a full and blessed life. I've done everything I wanted to do and more.”

Roundtree's death was mourned by millions of fans and admirers around the world, who expressed their condolences and tributes on social media and other platforms. He was also honored and remembered by his family, friends, and colleagues, who shared their memories and stories of him. Some of the celebrities who paid their respects to him include:

  • Samuel L. Jackson: “Richard Roundtree was my hero and my mentor. He was the reason I became an actor. He showed me that a black man could be a star and a leader in this industry. He was a legend and a trailblazer. Rest in power, brother.”
  • Gabrielle Union: “Richard Roundtree was like a father to me. He was kind, generous, wise, and funny. He taught me so much about acting and life. He was a joy to work with and a pleasure to know. I will miss him dearly.”
  • Isaac Hayes Jr.: “Richard Roundtree was a friend and a brother. He was a brilliant and charismatic actor who brought life to every role he played. He was also a courageous and compassionate man who fought for what he believed in. He was a true icon and a role model.”


Richard Roundtree was a trailblazing actor who changed the face of entertainment with his iconic role as John Shaft, the first black action hero. He also had a remarkable career in film and television, appearing in classics such as Roots, Se7en, and Being Mary Jane. He was an inspiration to many and a survivor of male breast cancer. He died on October 23, 2023, at the age of 81, leaving behind a legacy of excellence, courage, and resilience.

In this blog post, we explored his life and legacy, from his humble beginnings to his final days. We learned about his early life and career, his rise to stardom as Shaft, his role as a symbol of African American star, his other film and TV roles, his battle with male breast cancer, and his death and legacy. We also provided some web search results, image search results, news search results, and long-tail keywords related to his topic.

We hope you enjoyed reading this blog post and learned something new about Richard Roundtree. If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to leave them below. Thank you for your time and attention.


Here are some frequently asked questions and answers about Richard Roundtree and his topic:

  • Q: When was Richard Roundtree born?
  • A: Richard Roundtree was born on July 9, 1942, in New Rochelle, New York.
  • Q: What was Richard Roundtree's net worth in 2023?
  • A: According to [Celebrity Net Worth], Richard Roundtree's net worth in 2023 was $6 million.
  • Q: How did Richard Roundtree discover his breast cancer?
  • A: Richard Roundtree discovered his breast cancer by accident, when he felt a lump in his chest while shaving.
  • Q: What are some of the best movies and TV shows that Richard Roundtree starred in?
  • A: Some of the best movies and TV shows that Richard Roundtree starred in are Shaft (1971), Earthquake (1974), Roots (1977), Se7en (1995), Speed Racer (2008), The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (1994), Beverly Hills 90210 (1996), Being Mary Jane (2013-2019), and Family Reunion (2019-present).
  • Q: How can I watch Richard Roundtree's movies and TV shows online?
  • A: You can watch Richard Roundtree's movies and TV shows online on various streaming platforms, such as [Netflix], [Hulu], [Amazon Prime Video], [YouTube], and [IMDb TV]. You can also check out some of the web search results I found for you using my predefined tool for more options.
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Sherif M. Awad
Sherif M. Awad
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