Richard Roundtree, widely considered to have played one of the first black action heroes, has died at the age of 81.

Roundtree passed away at his home in Los Angeles on Tuesday (October 24). He had suffered from a number of cancer diagnoses throughout his life, including pancreatic cancer, which he eventually lost his battle to, according to his long term manager, Patrick McMinn.

The actor played the role of the suave and smooth private detective John Shaft throughout the 1970s. In the films, Shaft would take on local crime throughout his native Harlem in New York - all the while being able to exude power and confidence as a proud black man, something that was unheard of at the time.

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Widely attributed to being the first black action hero in movies, Shaft would go on to have another two movies made during the decade, with Roundtree at the wheel playing the charming detective. His last film in the series, Shaft in Africa, was released in 1973 - before being revived in 2000, when Samuel L Jackson took the reins.

Richard Roundtree
Roundtree was a household name in the early 1970s

Speaking on Richard's death, manager McMinn paid tribute to his talented colleague and friend, added that his career became a "turning point for African-American leading men". He commended Richard's work and branded him a trailblazer for paving the way forward for men breaking into the industry.

On-screen son Samuel L Jackson also paid tribute to Roundtree, explaining he was the "prototype" for black men in film, which - up until the 1970s - was completely unheard of in Hollywood. "Shaft as we know it is and will always be his creation," Jackson wrote in a social media post.

Richard Roundtree
He played the suave and sophisticated detective John Shaft

"His passing leaves a deep hole not only in my heart, but I'm sure a lotta y'all's, too." He also said: "The passing of Richard Roundtree is a real blow. Loved being around him, learning, working, laughing and feeling blessed to have an idol live up to who I expected him to be! Thanks for making us feel real good about ourselves! Rest in power.

It was not just Shaft that Richard landed roles for, but also box office smashes including Roots, Se7en and What Men Want. As well as appearing on the big screen, Roundtree was able to get parts in hit TV shows at the time, including Magnum P.I. and The Love Boat. Shaft himself got a TV show of his own; however, the show only lasted for seven episodes before being cancelled by broadcaster CBS.

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