R.I.P.: Legendary “Benson” Star Robert Guillaume Dies, Wife Gives Details
Emmy Award-winning actor, Robert Guillaume, best known for his roles on the hit television sitcoms, Benson and Soap, has died. It has been reported that Guillaume died from complications of cancer. His wife, Donna Brown Guillaume, released a statement to the Associated Press confirming his death. She revealed her husband passed away at their Los Angeles, CA home after an ongoing battle with prostate cancer. He was 89-years-old.
Robert Guillaume left his mark onstage and in front of the cameras starring as Nathan Detroit in the first all-black version of Guys and Dolls and as the first African-American to sing the lead role in Phantom of the Opera with an all-white cast in Los Angeles, CA.
His theatrical performance in Guys and Dolls also earned him a Tony nomination in 1977. While doing Guys and Dolls, he was asked to to do a pilot for the role of an acerbic butler for Soap. That character was ultimately taken for the spin-off that led to Guillaume’s iconic role of Benson DuBois on Benson which aired from 1979 to 1986. Guillaume earned an Emmy Award in 1985 for his role on Benson.
“The minute I saw the script, I knew I had a live one,” he recalled in 2001. “Every role was written against type, especially Benson, who wasn’t subservient to anyone. To me, Benson was the revenge for all those stereotyped guys who looked like Benson in the ’40s and ’50s (movies) and had to keep their mouths shut.”
In addition to the iconic role of Benson Dubois, Guillaume was also featured on other hit television shows like All in the Family, Good Times, Sanford and Son, and The Jeffersons.
In the 1990s, he earned the love of even more fans when he became known as the voice of Rafiki in Disney’s The Lion King. In 1995, he won a Grammy award for spoken-word recording for the Disney role.
A Life Well Lived:
Although Guillaume rose to stardom and had many years of success throughout his career, he never forgot his humble beginnings. During a 1972 interview with the Chicago Tribune, he shed light on his personal struggles with self-esteem and his internal battle with racism. But despite the problems he faced, those humble beginnings molded him into the man fans still love to this day. “As a black man, I’d been in a kind of wilderness. I did not know I did not like being black. I thought I had the whole thing together.” He also told Parade magazine, “It gets me crazy, the assumption that being black and poor is our own fault … I’ll never forget where I came from and how I got here.”