Robert Guillaume, the Emmy Award-winning actor best known for portraying the title character on the hit 1980s show “Benson,” died at age 89.
His wife, TV producer Donna Brown Guillaume, told The Associated Press he died following complications from prostate cancer in their Los Angeles home.
Guillaume played the lovable butler Benson Du Bois on “Benson,” which ran for seven years until its end in 1986. He had originally created the character on the 1977 series “Soap” before landing the spin-off two years later.
“Every role was written against type, especially Benson, who wasn’t subservient to anyone,” Guillaume said of the role on ‘Soap’ in 2001. “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.”
His role on both shows earned him two Emmys. He later starred in “The Robert Guillaume Show,” but the series was canceled after just four months.
Guillaume also voiced Rafiki in Disney’s 1994 animated movie “The Lion King.” He won a Grammy for a spoken word recording for his narration of a read-aloud version of “The Lion King” in 1995. Guillaume also starred on “Sports Night.” He played Nathan Detroit in an all-black version of “Guys and Dolls” and for which he got a Tony nomination in 1977. Guillaume also made history as the first African-American to play the the title role in “Phantom of the Opera.”
During his career, he made several guest appearances on sitcoms such as “8 Simple Rules,” “All in the Family,” “Good Times,” “Sanford and Son” and “The Jeffersons.”
Guillaume is survived by his second wife, one son and three daughters.
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