“Shaft” Legend Richard Roundtree Battled Breast Cancer, Tells Why He Hid Diagnosis For Years

Posted On : March 30, 2021
Richard Roundtree in “Shaft” film

We all know actor, Richard Roundtree (78), as the strong, damn near invincible action figure type of brotha, who played the role of “Detective John Shaft” like nobody’s business! But little did many of us know, he unfortunately was not as invincible when his doctor informed him he had breast cancer. Roundtree went on to fight it off for several years afterwards and has now prevailed, but his diagnosis was a REAL eye opener.

ROUNDTREE: “Wait, did he just say I had breast cancer?”

Richard Roundtree in his own words via Essence Magazine:

“I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1993. I’m blessed because I’m somewhat of a hypochondriac, and while I was taking a shower in Costa Rica I felt this lump. I knew it wasn’t ordinary, so I finished work about a week later and had my doctor check it out. He said it’s nothing to worry about but let me stick a needle in it anyway.

Three days later I received the we-need-to-talk call that immediately sent up red flags for me like crazy. When he sat me down and told me I had cancer so many things went through my mind but the first was, “Wait, did he just say I had breast cancer? That word scared the beejeezus out of me! I couldn’t relate and I thought he was questioning my manhood because women die from this, not men. How could I possibly have that? But I soon learned that this disease is not gender-based. And then I thought about my family. I had young kids. What’s going to happen to them? This was not supposed to be part of the script.”

Richard Roundtree

“The realization that a lot of women who have breast cancer leave here was frightening and sharing it with my then wife—all I could think was, how was she going to react? Thank God she was very stoic and said we’ll get through this. My second thing was, I knew somebody I could talk to that had some very special connections and that was my dad, who was a minister. I called him up and told him what the deal was and all he said was, “Let the doctors do what they have to do but it’s handled; we got this.” My dad is no longer with us but he had a direct connect to the Big Guy upstairs and I knew I was going to be all right.” – Richard Roundtree


Richard Roundtree says although he didn’t mind sharing his breast cancer diagnosis with his close friends and fam,’ he worked diligently to hide it from Hollywood because, “The industry doesn’t like sick people,” said Roundtree.

Richard Roundtree

Roundtree also said his breast mastectomy scar has altered his private life:

“[The] mastectomy left me with a permanent scar that runs from where my left nipple used to be to way back underneath my armpit, and it ain’t pretty,” confessed Roundtree. […] “Luckily I’m not called on to do love scenes—those days are pretty much behind me (laughs), but it’s the truth. If I’m dating a young lady, I’m very upfront about it because I don’t know how you tap dance around that.”


Richard Roundtree:

“One of the things I stress in my speeches is to get more than one diagnosis. There are at least 1100 to 1500 men who die every year from breast cancer. Although that number is far less than women who die from the disease, it’s still pretty high, so I stay on my daughters about health issues and what’s going on with their bodies because of my personal history. I stay on top of my diet and exercise as much as I can—it’s no joke and everyone should.”

We’re truly grateful to Richard Roundtree for sharing his past breast cancer diagnosis with the world. We can all learn something from this. Please try to stay healthy ILOSM fam.’