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Richard Roundtree
Richard Roundtree 1973.JPG
Roundtree in a 1973 publicity photo
Born (1942-07-09)July 9, 1942
Died October 24, 2023(2023-10-24) (aged 81)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Education New Rochelle High School
Alma mater Southern Illinois University
  • Actor and singer
Years active 1963–2023
Notable work
John ShaftShaft (1971), Shaft's Big Score! (1972), Shaft in Africa (1973), Shaft (2000), Shaft (2019)
Mary Jane Grant
(m. 1963; div. 1973)
Karen M. Ciernia
(m. 1980; div. 1998)
Children 5

Richard Roundtree (July 9, 1942 – October 24, 2023) was an American actor, noted as being "the first black action hero" for his portrayal of private detective John Shaft in the 1971 film Shaft, and its four sequels, released between 1972 and 2019. For his performance in the original film, Roundtree was nominated for the Golden Globe Award for New Star of the Year – Actor in 1972.

Early life and education

Born July 9, 1942, in New Rochelle, New York, to John Roundtree and Kathryn Watkins, Roundtree attended New Rochelle High School; graduating in 1961. During high school, Roundtree played for the school's undefeated and nationally ranked football team. Following high school, Roundtree attended Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, Illinois. Roundtree dropped out of college in 1963 to begin his acting career.


Roundtree began his professional career around 1963. Roundtree began modeling in the Ebony Fashion Fair after being scouted by Eunice W. Johnson. After his modeling success with the Fashion Fair, Roundtree began modeling for such products as Johnson Products' Duke hair grease and Salem cigarettes. In 1967, Roundtree joined the Negro Ensemble Company. His first role while a part of the company was portraying boxing legend Jack Johnson in the company's production of The Great White Hope. According to J. E. Franklin, he acted in the Off-Off-Broadway production of her play Mau Mau Room, by the Negro Ensemble Company Workshop Festival, at St. Mark's Playhouse in 1969, directed by Shauneille Perry.

Roundtree was a leading man in early 1970s blaxploitation films, his best-known role being detective John Shaft in the action movie, Shaft (1971) and its sequels, Shaft's Big Score! (1972) and Shaft in Africa (1973). Roundtree also appeared opposite Laurence Olivier and Ben Gazzara in Inchon (1981). On television, he played the slave Sam Bennett in the 1977 television series Roots and Dr. Daniel Reubens on Generations from 1989 to 1991. He played another private detective in 1984's City Heat opposite Clint Eastwood and Burt Reynolds. Although Roundtree worked throughout the 1990s, many of his films were not well-received, but he found success elsewhere in stage plays.

During that period, however, he reemerged on the small screen as a cultural icon. On September 19, 1991, Roundtree appeared in an episode of Beverly Hills, 90210 with Vivica A. Fox. The episode was "Ashes to Ashes", Roundtree playing Robinson Ashe Jr. Roundtree appeared in David Fincher's critically acclaimed 1995 movie Seven, and in the 2000 Shaft, again as John Shaft, with Samuel L. Jackson playing the title character, who is described as the original Shaft's nephew. Roundtree guest-starred in several episodes of the first season of Desperate Housewives as an amoral private detective. He also appeared in 1997's George of the Jungle and played a high-school vice-principal in the 2005 movie, Brick. His voice was utilized as the title character in the hit PlayStation game Akuji the Heartless, where Akuji must battle his way out of the depths of Hell at the bidding of the Baron.

Roundtree in 2007

In 1997–1998, Roundtree had a leading role as Phil Thomas in the short-lived Fox ensemble drama, 413 Hope St. He portrayed Booker T. Washington in the 1999 television movie Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters' First 100 Years.

Beginning in 2005, Roundtree appeared in the television series The Closer as Colonel D. B. Walter, U.S.M.C. (retired), the father of a sniper, and in Heroes as Simone's terminally ill father, Charles Deveaux. Next, Roundtree appeared as Eddie's father-in-law in episodes of Lincoln Heights. Roundtree then had a supporting role in the 2008 Speed Racer film as a racer-turned-commentator who is an icon and hero to Speed. He also appeared in the two-parter in Knight Rider (2008) as the father of FBI Agent Carrie Ravai, and co-starred as the father of the lead character on Being Mary Jane, which has aired on BET since 2013.

In 2019, Roundtree co-starred in the comedy film What Men Want, and returned to the role of John Shaft in Shaft, a sequel to the 2000 film, opposite Samuel L. Jackson and Jessie Usher, who portray John Shaft II and John Shaft III, respectively. This time, Roundtree's character was described as Jackson's character's father, while acknowledging that Roundtree had pretended to be Jackson's Shaft's uncle in the 2000 movie. He also starred in the movie, Family Reunion in 2019.

Personal life, health problems, and death

Roundtree was married and divorced twice and had five children. His first marriage was to Mary Jane Grant, whom he married on November 27, 1963. Roundtree and Grant had two children before divorcing in December 1973. He dated actress and TV personality Cathy Lee Crosby shortly thereafter. Roundtree later married Karen M. Ciernia in September 1980; together they had three children. Roundtree and Ciernia divorced in 1998. Roundtree was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1993 and underwent a double mastectomy and chemotherapy.

Roundtree died of pancreatic cancer at his Los Angeles home on October 24, 2023, at the age of 81.



Year Title Role Notes
1971 Shaft John Shaft
1972 Embassy Richard "Dick" Shannon
Shaft's Big Score! John Shaft
1973 Charley-One-Eye The Black Man
Shaft in Africa John Shaft
1973 Firehouse Shelly Forsythe
1974 Earthquake Miles Quade
1975 Man Friday Friday
Diamonds Archie
1979 Escape to Athena Nat Judson
Portrait of a Hitman "Coco" Morrell
Game for Vultures Gideon Marunga
Days of the Assassin Fessler
1980 Gypsy Angels Dr. Carlson
1981 Inchon Sergeant Augustus Henderson
An Eye for an Eye Captain Stevens
1982 Q Powell
One Down, Two to Go Ralph
1983 Young Warriors Sergeant John Austin
The Big Score Gordon
1984 Killpoint Agent Bill Bryant
City Heat Dehl Swift
1986 Opposing Force Stafford
Jocks Chip Williams
1988 Maniac Cop Commissioner Pike
Party Line Captain Barnes
Angel III: The Final Chapter Lieutenant Doniger
1989 Miami Cops Gambie
Getting Even Dundee
Night Visitors Captain Crane
The Banker Lloyd
1990 Bad Jim July
1991 A Time to Die Captain Ralph Phipps
1992 Bloodfist III: Forced to Fight Samuel Stark
1993 Body of Influence Harry Reams Direct-to-video
Sins of the Night Les
Deadly Rivals Agent Peterson
Amityville: A New Generation Pauli Direct-to-video
Mind Twister Frank Webb
1995 Ballistic Harold
Se7en District Attorney Martin Talbot
Once Upon a Time... When We Were Colored Cleve
Theodore Rex Commissioner Lynch
1996 Original Gangstas "Slick"
1997 George of the Jungle Kwame
Steel Uncle Joe
2000 Shaft Uncle John Shaft
2001 Antitrust Lyle Barton
Shoot! Unknown Short film
Hawaiian Gardens M.O.
Corky Romano Howard Shuster
2002 Capone's Boys "Boom-Boom" Also known as Al's Lads
Boat Trip Felicia's Dad
2003 Men Cry in the Dark Unknown Direct-to-DVD
2004 Short Fuse: A Collection of Explosive Shorts Unknown Direct-to-DVD
Max Havoc: Curse of the Dragon Tahsi
2005 Brick Assistant Vice President Trueman
2006 Wild Seven Lee Marvin / Cleetus Woods
2007 All the Days Before Tomorrow El Doctor
Vegas Vampires Rick Apping
2008 Speed Racer Ben Burns
2009 Set Apart J.T.
2010 The Confidant Claude
Veil Michael Draden Short film
2011 Go Beyond the Lens "Guess" Short film
2012 The Trial of Ben Barry Ben Barry Short film
This Bitter Earth Grady
2014 Whatever She Wants Theodore Wolf Direct-to-DVD
2015 Collar Reverend Alonzo Sparks
2016 Retreat! Henshaw
2018 Duke J.T.
2019 What Men Want Skip
Shaft John Shaft I
2020 Haunting of the Mary Celeste Tulls
2022 Moving On Ralph
TBA Thelma Post-production


Year Title Role Notes
1972 Parachute to Paradise Unknown Television Movie
1972–1976 The Hollywood Squares Himself (Panelist) Recurring role (4 episodes)
1973 Firehouse Shelly Forsythe Television Movie
1973–1974 Shaft John Shaft Series regular (7 episodes)
1974 Comedy Roast Himself — "Telly Savalas"
1976 Freedom Is Unknown (voice role) Television Movie
1977 Roots Sam Bennett Television Miniseries
— "Part IV"
1980 The Love Boat Dave Wilbur 2 episodes
Miss Universe Pageant Himself (Judge) Television Special
1981 CHiPs Sergeant Aikens — "Sharks"
1983 Magnum, P.I. Peter Jordan — "Two Birds of a Feather"
Masquerade Willy "Mean Willy" Walters — "Pilot"
Just an Overnight Guest Matt Television Short
1984 The Baron and the Kid 'Frosty' Television Movie
1985 A.D. Serpenius Television Miniseries (5 episodes)
Hollywood Beat Don Julian — "Double Exposure"
1986 The Fifth Missile Commander Frederick Bryce Television Movie
1986–1987 Outlaws Isaiah "Ice" McAdams Series regular (12 episodes)
1987 The New Hollywood Squares Himself (Panelist) — "03.23.1987"
1988 ABC Afterschool Specials Jason Ruigh — "Daddy Can't Read"
Cadets Sergeant Matt Gideon Television Movie
Murder, She Wrote Major Kevin Cooper — "The Last Flight of the Dixie Damsel"
1989 A Different World Clinton Reese 2 episodes
— "Great Expectations"
— "Answered Prayers"
Amen Sergeant Burke 2 episodes
— "Thelma and the D.I."
— "Sergeant in Arms"
Beauty and the Beast Cleon Manning Recurring role (3 episodes)
— "Ceremony of Innocence"
— "Though Lovers Be Lost..."
— "Nevermore"
1989–1991 Generations Dr. Daniels Reubens Recurring role (6 episodes)
1990 21 Jump Street Ben Halley — "La Bizca"
MacGyver R.T. Hines — "Tough Boys"
Masquerade Unknown Television Movie
1990–1996 The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air Dr. Mumford / Reverend Gordon Sims 2 episodes
— "Clubba Hubba" (1990)
— "Hare Today" (1996)
1991 The Young Riders Calvin — "Kansas"
Beverly Hills, 90210 Robinson Ashe Jr. — "Ashes to Ashes"
1991–1994 Roc Russell Emerson Recurring role (4 episodes)
1992 Hearts Are Wild Xavier Burns — "Episode: #1.8"
Christmas in Connecticut Prescotf Television Movie
L.A. Law Judge Ira Menday — "Love on the Rox"
1992–1994 Hangin' with Mr. Cooper Sergeant / Chester Cooper 2 episodes
— "Miracle in Oaktown" (1992)
— "Hangin' with Mrs. Cooper" (1994)
1993 Bonanza: The Return Jacob Briscoe Television Movie
Moscacieca Gray Television Movie
1994 Black as the Heart Rodney "Rod" Television Movie
Shadows of Desire "Dunc" Television Movie
Renegade Gene Collins — "Thrill Kill"
1995 Bonanza: Under Attack Jacob Television Movie
The Wayans Bros. Dr. Saunders — "ER"
Dream On Dr. Charles — "Little Orphan Eddie"
1996 Touched by an Angel Murray — "Rock 'n' Roll Dad"
Buddies Henry Carlisle Series regular (14 episodes)
1997 Any Place But Home Gil Oberman Television Movie
Profiler Detective James Henegar — "Power Corrupts"
1997–98 413 Hope St. Phil Thomas Series regular (10 episodes)
1998 Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman Jim "Barracuda Jim" Barnes — "The Fight"
1999 Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters' First 100 Years Booker T. Washington Television Movie
Rescue 77 Captain Durfee Series regular (8 episodes)
Linc's Jake — "Real Time"
2000–2001 Soul Food Hardy Lester Recurring role (6 episodes)
2001 Resurrection Blvd. Nate Khane 2 episodes
— "Anisedad"
— "La Gran Pelea"
2002 Joe and Max Jack Blackburn Television Movie
2002–2003 As the World Turns Oliver Travers Unknown episodes
2003 1-800-Missing Sam Haslett — "Father Figure"
2003–2004 Alias Brill x2 episodes
— "Breaking Point" (2003)
— "Blood Ties" (2004)
2004–2005 Desperate Housewives Mr. Shaw Recurring role (5 episodes)
2005 The Closer Colonel D.B. Walter — "Show Yourself"
Painkiller Jane Colonel Watts Television Movie
2006 Blade: The Series Robert Brooks — "Sacrifice"
Grey's Anatomy Donald Burke — "I Am a Tree"
Close to Home Cyrus Cater — "Prodigal Son"
2006–2007 Heroes Charles Deveaux Recurring role (6 episodes)
2007 Final Approach Gary Markash Television Movie
Point of Entry Detective Miles Porter Television Movie
2007–2009 Lincoln Heights Coleman Bradshaw Recurring role (3 episodes)
2008 Ladies of the House Stan Television Movie
2009 Knight Rider Lawrence Rival — "Day Turns Into Knight"
2009–2011 Diary of a Single Mom Lou Bailey Recurring role (18 episodes)
2010 Meet the Browns Frank — "Meet the Anniversary"
2011 The Mentalist Floyd Benton — "Bloodsport"
2012 Private Practice Raymond McCray — The Next Episode"
2013–2019 Being Mary Jane Paul Patterson Sr. Recurring role (33 episodes)
2015 Chicago Fire Wallace Boden Sr. Recurring role (4 episodes)
The Player Judge Samuel Letts 2 episodes
— "The Norseman"
— "A House Is Not A Home"
2017–2018 Star Charles Floyd Recurring role (5 episodes)
2018 Lethal Weapon Don Bennett — "A Whole Lotta Trouble"
2019–2022 Family Reunion Grandpa Recurring role (14 episodes)
2022 Cherish the Day Mandeville "MV" St. James Main role (Season 2)

Video games

Year Title Role Notes
1998 Akuji the Heartless Akuji (voice role)

Awards and nominations

Association Year Category Nominated Work Result Ref
African-American Film Critics Association 2011 Legacy Award N/A Won
Golden Globe Awards 1972 Most Promising Newcomer – Male Shaft Nominated
Indie Series Awards 2010 Best Performance by a Supporting Actor Diary of a Single Mom Nominated
MTV Movie + TV Awards 1994 Lifetime Achievement Award Shaft (film series) Won
NAACP Image Awards 1971 Outstanding Actor in a Motion Picture Shaft Nominated
1998 Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series 413 Hope St. Nominated
Soap Opera Digest Awards 1991 Outstanding Supporting Actor: Daytime Generations Nominated

See also

Kids robot.svg In Spanish: Richard Roundtree para niños

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