Vonetta McGee, star of several blaxploitation-era films including “Blacula” and “Shaft in Africa,” died July 9 in Berkeley, Calif., after being taken off life support following cardia arrest. She was 65.
Born Lawrence Vonetta McGee, the California native made her 1968 screen debut in Italian comedy “Faustina.” Later roles in films including “Melinda,” “Blacula” and “Hammer” made her a reluctant icon of the 1970s blaxploitation era. In a 1979 article the Los Angeles Times reported she disapproved of the reference, saying people used it “like racism, so you don’t have to think of the individual elements, just the whole.”
McGee and her then-partner, Max Julien, also produced and co-starred in “Thomasine and Bushrod,” a blaxsploitation film about a gang of Robin Hood-esque thieves, in 1974.
Despite being diagnosed with Hodgkins lymphoma at 17, the actress accrued dozens of TV and film credits throughout her 30-year career. She starred alongside Clint Eastwood in 1973’s “The Eiger Sanction” and appeared in 1984’s “Repo Man.”
Shifting mostly to television in the 1980s, the actress had recurring roles in such series as “Bustin’ Loose,” “Cagney and Lacey,” and “L.A. Law.” She last appeared on screen in 1998’s “Johnny B Good.”
Survivors include her husband, Carl Lumbly; a son; her mother; three brothers; and a sister.