Another icon from the modern heyday of black moviemaking has died.
Vonetta McGee, who starred in “Blacula,” “Shaft in Africa” and “Thomasine and Bushrod,” died last Friday at a hospital in Berkeley after suffering cardiac arrest and spending two days on life support, The Los Angeles Times reported Thursday.
She was 65.
Family spokeswoman Kelley Nayo told The Times that although McGee had been diagnosed as a teenager with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, her death was unrelated to the disease.
As word of her death began to circulate Thursday, postings began showing up on a Facebook fan page, as well as on Twitter and the blogosphere.
In addition to starring with actors Richard Roundtree in “Shaft in Africa” (1973) and Max Julien in “Thomasine & Bushrod” (1974), McGee also appeared with Fred Williamson in “Hammer” and Clint Eastwood in “The Eiger Sanction,” an action thriller.
“I was pleased to see her get a role with Clint Eastwood,” said Williamson, who knew McGee before they made “Hammer,” told the Times. “Not many black actors had that opportunity to be in a movie where color doesn’t matter,”
“Vonetta McGee was like a lot of actors and actresses at that time, like myself, Jim Brown, Richard Roundtree, Billy Dee Williams and Pam Grier, in that we had more talent than we were allowed to show because everything was perceived as a black project,” Williamson said. “Once they categorize you, your marketability becomes limited.”
McGee launched her film career in 1968 in Italy, where she appeared in the spaghetti western “The Great Silence” and played the title role in the comedy “Faustina.”
McGee, like Julien, Grier and many other black actors, eschewed the term “blaxploitation,” referring to many of the films featuring black casts in the ’70s.
That label, she told The Times in 1979, was used “like racism, so you don’t have to think of the individual elements, just the whole. If you study propaganda, you understand how this works.”
By the 1980s, McGee had turned to television, appearing in Robert Blake’s “Hell Town,” the sitcom “Bustin’ Loose” and in several episodes of “Cagney & Lacey,” as the wife of a detective played by her real-life husband, Carl Lumbly.
The couple married in 1986 and had a son, Brandon, two years later.
In addition to her husband and son, she is survived by her mother, Alma McGee; three brothers, Donald, Richard and Ronald McGee; and a sister, Alma McGee.
A memorial service is pending.