Robert Guillaume, Beloved Star of ‘Soap’ and ‘Benson,’ Dead at 89
Robert Guillaume, the veteran stage and screen actor who received two Emmy Awards for portraying the acidic butler Benson DuBois on two hit sitcoms, died Tuesday (Oct. 24). He was 89. He had been fighting prostate cancer.
Guillaume, became a household name in the late 1970s and 1980s as DuBois, the Tate family butler on ABC's hit Soap. It would later lead to his own spinoff of his own, Benson, which saw the character enter politics and become state budget director and eventually lieutenant governor. The show ended with Benson running for governor.
In 1994, Guillaume famously voiced the wise mandrill Rafiki in Disney's hit The Lion King.
Guillaume also starred on on ABC's critically acclaimed Aaron Sorkin series Sports Night as Isaac Jaffe, the managing editor of a Sportscenter-based news show. In 1999, Guillaume suffered a mild stroke while shooting Sports Night. The illness was written into his character on the show.
Born in St. Louis on Nov. 30, 1927, Guillaume served a stint in the army before attending St. Louis University, where he majored in business administration and sang. He won a scholarship to the Aspen Music Festival and later an apprenticeship at Cleveland’s Karamu Theater. Relocating to New York, he woud make a name for himself on Broadway in productions like Finian's Rainbow, Kwamina, Tambourines to Glory and Purlie with Sherman Hemsley.
Guillaume earned a Tony nomination for best actor in a musical in 1977 for playing Nathan Detroit in a Guys and Dolls revival. He played the Phantom in a widely praised L.A. production of The Phantom of the Opera.
In 1985, Guillaume became the only black man to win an Emmy for outstanding actor in a comedy. He was nominated six times.
He was also a fixture in movies: appearing in Old Times, Lean on Me, Meteor Man, First Kid, Big Fish. And he was a frequent guest star on hit television shows like All in the Family, The Jeffersons, Good Times, The Love Boat, L.A. Law, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Diagnosis Murder, Touched by an Angel and 8 Simple Rules … for Dating My Teenage Daughter.
Guillaume talked about his initial feelings about his most famous character. You can watch the video above.