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“Rest in Peace”: Mourning the Loss of His “Idol”, Magic Johnson Joins Samuel L. Jackson and More in Honoring “Shaft” Star

Published 10/25/2023, 3:05 PM EDT

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Decades before we saw Samuel L. Jackson don the leather trench coat and boots as Nick Fury, another man paved the way. This man was Richard Roundtree, also known as the ‘first Black action hero.’ While Roundtree had over 150 acting credits, one title stands above the rest – Shaft. Not only did the film launch the New York native into Hollywood, but it also broke the mold of strait-laced Black characters, opening the door for future flicks like ‘Rush Hour’, ‘Bad Boys,’ and ‘Blade.’

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Notably, these titles made it to Magic Johnson’s list of his top 60 films. But it was ‘Shaft’ that received the ultimate nod from Johnson, as he included both the original from 1971 and the 2019 remake. And for good reason! As Magic put it, “When Richard starred in Shaft, we all lost our minds.” 

Magic Johnson bids farewell to his childhood idol, Richard Roundtree


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Richard Roundtree passed away earlier this week. He succumbed to pancreatic cancer. He was 81. After this news went public, several notable people, including Magic Johnson and Samuel L. Jackson, sent their condolences to his family.

Much like the Lakers legend, Richard Roundtree had a revolutionary career. The style of John Shaft in the 1971 film became a cultural phenomenon. Ali Shaheed Muhammad of ‘A Tribe Called Quest’ described Roundtree’s character as “a character that was a superhero for the Black community.” Roundtree’s portrayal of John Shaft, with a short perm and a heavy mutton chop, also iconized the turtleneck and leather jacket look.


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At a time when black leads in movies were depicted as virtuous individuals, Roundtree’s shaft was a rule-breaker and rebel. Shaft made the black hero tough-talking, fist-fighting, and a ladies’ man. The success of ‘Shaft’ led to the era of what would be known as ‘blaxploitation movies’ (black-themed action movies), where black men and women would be seen in leading roles.

The suaveness of ‘Shaft’ was a breath of fresh air for Black audiences and we know the impact it had on a 12-year-old Magic Johnson.  As Johnson put it, “Growing up as a little boy, Richard Roundtree was the man we idolized because he was so cool on and off the screen.”

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On Tuesday, October 24th, the world lost the very first John Shaft. Richard Roundtree passed away at his home in Los Angeles. After this sad news, Magic took to X to convey his condolences and admiration for the legendary actor. The Lakers legend added, “Rest in peace to one of the greats. Cookie and I are praying for Richard’s family and loved ones!”


Richard Roundtree was a trailblazer in his time. The Golden Globe winner would go on to pave the way for several Black actors, like Pam Grier, and athletes, like Magic Johnson. The cool, suave persona of Magic that revolutionized the league was likely more than a little influenced by Roundtree’s portrayal of the cool and confident private eye, John Shaft.

Other than Johnson, some notable celebrities from Hollywood also took to their social media to give the icon his flowers.


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 Samuel L. Jackson pays homage to his ‘uncle’

In 2000, Samuel L. Jackson became John Shaft II. He played the titular role in a remake of Shaft for newer audiences but as the nephew of John Shaft. Roundtree appeared as Uncle John Shaft.

Not only was Samuel fortunate enough to work with Roundtree, he was, in a way, carrying forward his legacy. Jackson said Richard will always be “The Prototype” and “The Best To Ever Do It”.


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We extend our condolences to the family. He is survived by his five children.

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Written by:

Prateek Singh


One take at a time

Prateek Singh is an NBA writer for EssentiallySports, known for his insightful coverage of the league. With a deep passion for basketball fueled by the late Kobe Bryant's championship runs, Prateek has built his writing career on astute analysis and a firm understanding of the game. His transparent reporting and dedication to providing quality content have earned him credibility and respect among readers and industry professionals alike.
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Edited by:

Caroline Joseph