Actor Robert Guillaume has passed away at the age of 89 from prostate cancer. Born in St. Louis Missouri on November 30, 1927, he later attended Saint Louis University and Washington University and was a solider in the Army before he pursued an acting career. He began his career on stage in the late 1950s and was a Tony Award nominee for the 1970s revival of Guys and Dolls.
On screen, Guillaume guest starred on a number of popular TV shows in the 1970s. Including episodes of All in the Family, Good Times, Sanford and Sons, and The Jeffersons. It was in 1977 that he landed a role that would change his life – that of butler Benson DuBois on the sitcom Soap. While the soap opera parody lasted for four years, Guillaume left in the third season. His reason for leaving was a good one, he was given the chance to star in the spinoff series Benson.
Whereas on Soap the character of Benson was one in an ensemble – often on the outskirts as he was a servant to several of the main characters, all the rest of whom were members of the same family – on Benson he was the star. His character worked as the head of the household affairs for Governor Eugene X. Gaitling, and it was Benson’s interactions with the rest of the household staff, as well as Gaitling and his political staff, which drove the series. The show aired for six years, with Benson running against Gaitling for governor by the end of the series.
Guillaume stayed busy, even when Benson was filming. During that time he also appeared on three episodes of The Love Boat, appeared in several TV movies, played Martin Luthor King in the film Professor Jack, and was Fredrick Douglass on the miniseries North and South.
After Benson Guillaume continued to act. He starred alongside Morgan Freeman and reunited with his Benson co-star Ethan Phillips in the movie Lean on Me. He also returned to TV with The Robert Guillaume Show, which only aired 12 episodes. In the 90s he guest starred on a number of popular shows, including A Different World, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and Touched by an Angel. He also began to do voiceover work, voicing characters in such cartoons as The Addams Family and Captain Planet and the Planeteers.
In 1994, Guillaume voiced the character of Rafiki in The Lion King, a role he reprised in the sequels, in video games, and on the animated series Timon and Pumba. He followed that with a role on the sitcom Sports Night. He suffered a minor stroke one day while filming Sports Night, but managed to continue working on the show until it ended after two years. Guillaume continued acting and voicing Rafiki until 2013.
Guillaume is a part of entertainment history. He is the only African-American Actor to win Emmy Awards both for leading and supporting actor in a comedy series – leading for Benson and supporting for Soap. He was the first Afircan-American actor to win either of those awards. He will be missed, and his legacy will live on.
R.I.P. Robert Guillaume — November 30, 1927 – October 24, 2017
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