Blaxploitation superstar Richard Roundtree earned screen immortality during the 1970s as the legendary Shaft, "the black private dick that's the sex machine to all the chicks." Born July 9, 1942, in New Rochelle, NY, Roundtree attended college on a football scholarship but later gave up athletics to pursue an acting career. After touring as a model with the Ebony Fashion Fair, he joined the Negro Ensemble Company's acting workshop program in 1967. He made his film debut in 1970's What Do You Say to a Naked Lady?, but was still an unknown when filmmaker Gordon Parks Sr. cast him as Shaft. The role shot Roundtree to instant fame, launching the blaxploitation genre and proving so successful at the box office that it helped save MGM from the brink of bankruptcy. Thanks to the film's popularity -- as well as its two sequels, 1972's Shaft's Big Score! and the following year's Shaft in Africa, and even a short-lived television series -- Roundtree became an icon of '70s-era cool, and his image graced countless magazine covers. Outside of the Shaft franchise, he also appeared in films including the 1974 disaster epic Earthquake, 1975's Man Friday, and the blockbuster 1977 TV miniseries Roots.
By the end of the decade, however, the blaxploitation movement was a thing of the past, and Roundtree's stardom waned; apart from the 1981 big-budget flop Inchon, he spent the 1980s appearing almost exclusively in TV roles or low-rent, direct-to-video features. Still, he continued working steadily, and in 1995 appeared in David Fincher's smash thriller Seven. The following year he co-starred in the acclaimed Once Upon a Time...When We Were Colored, and also teamed with fellow blaxploitation vets Pam Grier and Fred "the Hammer" Williamson in Original Gangstas. In 1997, Roundtree returned to series television in 413 Hope St.