Photo of Richard Roundtree (John Shaft) and Ed Barth (Al Rossi) from the television series Shaft. Roundtree played the John Shaft character in both the movie and this television version, which aired on CBS for less than one year. The photo is from the episode The Killing which aired on 30 October 1973. – Photo courtesy of MGM Television

(CNN) – Richard Roundtree, the stage and screen actor best known for his performance as a tough-talking private eye in 1971’s Shaft, has died. He was 81.

The news was confirmed by Roundtree’s theatrical talent agent Artist and Representatives, who said in an email to CNN that the actor died Tuesday afternoon after a short battle with pancreatic cancer. His family was with him at his bedside.

“Artists & Representatives Agency mourns the loss of our friend and client Richard Roundtree. His trailblazing career changed the face of entertainment around the globe and his enduring legacy will be felt for generations to come,” their included statement read. “Our hearts are with his family and loved ones during this difficult time.”

Roundtree has the distinction of being among a handful of actors who enjoyed top billing with his first-ever screen credit. Until then a theater actor, his starring role in the 1971 Blaxploitation epic Shaft propelled him into the cultural limelight, launching a franchise that would see sequels, a TV series and a 2019 reboot starring Samuel L. Jackson.

The actor would go on to enjoy a career spanning 50 years with over 150 screen credits. Notable television credits include Roots, Desperate Housewives, and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.” Roundtree also costarred in films such as Se7en, Speed Racer and Brick.

Actress Gabrielle Union shared a tribute to Roundtree on X, formerly Twitter, reposting images showing the pair from their time together on the TV series Being Mary Jane.

Jackson, who costarred with Roundtree in the Shaft reboot, called the late actor “The Prototype, The Best To Ever Do It!!” in an Instagram tribute on Tuesday evening.

“His passing leaves a deep hole not only in my heart, but I’m sure a lotta y’all’s, too,” Jackson continued. “Love you Brother, I see you walking down the Middle of Main Street in Heaven & Issac’s Conducting your song coat blowin’ in wind!! Angels whispering.”

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