Long before Samuel L. Jackson graced the silver screen as Nick Fury in his iconic leather trench coat, there was another trailblazer who had already left an indelible mark on the world of cinema. That trailblazer was none other than Richard Roundtree, the man behind the legendary character John Shaft, often referred to as the ‘first Black action hero.’ Roundtree’s extensive career boasted over 150 acting credits, yet one title, “Shaft,” shone the brightest. The 1971 classic not only catapulted the New York native into the Hollywood spotlight but also shattered stereotypes by paving the way for future hits like “Rush Hour,” “Bad Boys,” and “Blade.”
It’s noteworthy that these very titles found a special place in the heart of basketball legend Magic Johnson, who recently shared his list of top 60 films. Among these cinematic gems, “Shaft” held a unique distinction, as Magic included both the original 1971 version and the 2019 remake in his prestigious selection. And the reason behind this honor is crystal clear, as Magic Johnson succinctly put it, “When Richard starred in Shaft, we all lost our minds.”
Magic Johnson Pays Tribute to His Childhood Idol, Richard Roundtree
The world recently bid farewell to a cinematic icon as Richard Roundtree passed away due to pancreatic cancer at the age of 81. In the wake of this somber news, luminaries like Magic Johnson and Samuel L. Jackson paid their heartfelt respects to the late actor, acknowledging the revolutionary path he blazed.
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Much like Magic Johnson’s transformative influence on basketball, Richard Roundtree’s portrayal of John Shaft in the 1971 film struck a chord that resonated across generations. Ali Shaheed Muhammad, a member of the renowned hip-hop group ‘A Tribe Called Quest,’ described Roundtree’s character as a “superhero for the Black community.” In fact, John Shaft’s sharp style with a short perm and signature mutton chop inspired the timeless turtleneck and leather jacket look that would become iconic.
At a time when Black protagonists in cinema were often depicted as virtuous and restrained figures, Roundtree’s Shaft broke the mold. He became the archetype of the fearless, quick-witted, and charismatic Black hero, ultimately ushering in the era of ‘blaxploitation movies.’ These films featured Black men and women in leading roles and celebrated the culture and style that had long been overlooked.
The legendary suaveness of “Shaft” breathed fresh air into the Black community and left an indelible mark, especially on a 12-year-old Magic Johnson. Reflecting on those formative years, Johnson reminisced, “Growing up as a little boy, Richard Roundtree was the man we idolized because he was so cool on and off the screen.”
Magic Johnson’s Heartfelt Farewell
Richard Roundtree’s passing on October 24, 2023, marked the loss of the very first John Shaft. Magic Johnson, deeply moved by this event, expressed his condolences and admiration for the actor via a heartfelt tweet. He bid farewell to a childhood idol, stating, “Rest in peace to one of the greats. Cookie and I are praying for Richard’s family and loved ones!” Johnson’s words resonated with fans and fellow celebrities alike, as they mourned the loss of a true icon.
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In many ways, Richard Roundtree was a trailblazer whose legacy reached far beyond the confines of cinema. The impact he had on Black actors and athletes, including Pam Grier and Magic Johnson, cannot be overstated. Magic’s own cool and suave persona, which revolutionized the basketball world, was undoubtedly influenced by Roundtree’s portrayal of the confident private eye, John Shaft.
Joining Magic Johnson, numerous other Hollywood luminaries took to social media to pay tribute to the iconic actor who forever changed the cinematic landscape.