Actress Vonetta McGee, best known for her leading roles in the blaxploitation films "Blacula," "Hammer" and "Shaft in Africa," has died at age 65. The Los Angeles Times reports that McGee died Friday (July 9) after being admitted to a Berkeley, California, hospital for cardiac arrest, for which she was put on life support for two days.
Born Lawrence Vonetta McGee in San Francisco on January 14, 1945, she caught the acting bug while attending college and landed her first film role in the 1968 spaghetti western "The Great Silence." Times movie reviewer Kevin Thomas called McGee "one of the busiest and most beautiful black actresses" in 1972, the year "Hammer" and "Blacula" were released. She later appeared alongside Clint Eastwood in the action-thriller "The Eiger Sanction." Other film credits include "The Lost Man," "Detroit 9000," "Brothers," "Repo Man" and "To Sleep With Anger," as well as many successful roles in television.
Her "Hammer" co-star Fred Williamson said he was most pleased to see her alongside Clint Eastwood. "Not many black actors had that opportunity to be in a movie where color doesn't matter," he said. "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. Once they categorize you, your marketability becomes limited."
Though she is known primarily for her roles in blaxploitation films, McGee outwardly criticized Hollywood's profligation of the term. She told the Times in 1979 that the wording was "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."
She is survived by her husband, Carl Lumbly; son Brandon; her mother; three brothers; and a sister.
Share your memories of Vonetta McGee in the comments below.