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See "Shaft" Star Richard Roundtree at 79

The man behind the painfully cool private detective is still acting today.

Even if you haven't seen the movie in years—or at all, for that matter—there's no doubt you know the Shaft theme song, and the famous catchphrase: "Shaft, can ya dig it?" The 1971 movie, its sequels, and a short-lived TV adaptation all starred Richard Roundtree as the titular private detective, John Shaft. The role made him an action star and one of the most popular actors in the blaxploitation genre. Now, over 50 years since the first Shaft movie came out, Roundtree is still acting. And there's a good chance he's popped up one of your favorite TV shows. Read on to find out more about his life and career today.

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He's still a busy, working actor.

Richard Roundtree in a portrait from 1972
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Roundtree has continued acting ever since his big break, on TV, in movies, and on stage. Some of his recent roles include the TV series Being Mary Jane, Family Reunion, and Cherish the Day, and the movies What Men Want and the 2019 Shaft sequel, which co-starred Samuel L. Jackson and Jessie T. Usher as Shaft's son and grandson, respectively. He will also appear in the upcoming movie Moving On alongside Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda.

Roundtree has also had guest and recurring roles on many other TV shows over the years, including Alias, Desperate Housewives, The Closer, Grey's Anatomy, Heroes, and Chicago Fire.

He's a cancer survivor.

Richard Roundtree on the set of "Extra" in 2019
Paul Archuleta/Getty Images

Roundtree was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1993 after noticing a lump on his breast. He shared his diagnosis publicly after he was cancer-free for five years. "Ironically, my only trepidation was sharing my condition with anyone in Hollywood because the industry doesn't like sick people," he shared with Essence in 2020. "I was never concerned about telling any of my male friends, but the industry, yes, so I never let on and I never told anyone until I was cancer-free and a five-year survivor."

Since opening up about having cancer, he has spread awareness of breast cancer in men. In an interview with the Boston Herald in 2019, he said that a flight attendant once told him, "'You saved my husband's life. I made him read the article in Time magazine about your journey and it made him get checked out and it saved his life.'" Roundtree continued, "I've had repeats of that story numerous times. That's why I call it a blessing in disguise. Because I was able to talk about it, it let men know that early detection can save your life."

He's a father of five.

Richard Roundtree at the premiere of "What Men Want" in 2019
Alex Millauer / Shutterstock

Roundtree has been married twice: to Mary Jane Grant from 1963 to 1973, and to Karen M. Ciernia from 1980 to 1998. He has five children total from both marriages.

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He'd play Shaft again if he had the chance.

RIchard Roundtree at the premiere of "Shaft" in 2019
lev radin / Shutterstock

After the three original Shaft films and the TV adaptation, Roundtree reprised the role two more times: in 2000 and 2019. In a 2019 interview with The New York Times, Roundtree said, "Come on. If they say, let's do it again, and Sam [Jackson] is involved, I'm on board. Without a doubt."

Roundtree also shared in the interview how being recognized as Shaft makes him feel.

"Not a day goes by that I'm not somewhere when someone recites the lines from the theme song, or lines from the film, as if I've never heard them before. [Tilts his head disapprovingly.] I'm like, 'Yeah, man. Cool. Okay,'" he said. "But that's what it is. And at the same time, what else would I be doing? I'm still here. A lot of my friends and associates are no longer here, or no longer in the business, and I'm still gainfully employed. So keep it moving, Roundtree."

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Lia Beck
Lia Beck is a writer living in Richmond, Virginia. In addition to Best Life, she has written for Refinery29, Bustle, Hello Giggles, InStyle, and more. Read more
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