Emmy Winning “Benson” Actor, Robert Guillaume, Died at Age 89

Robert Guillaume known for his role as Benson DuBois on the TV series Soap and the spin-off Benson, Isaac Jaffe on Sports Night, and for voicing the mandrill Rafiki in The Lion King has died at age 89.

Archie rips up a chain letter, thinking it to be nothing more than baloney, Later he ends up at the ER thinking he’s contracted hepatitis Robert Guillaume guest stars as Dr. Franklin with Carroll O’Connor. Monday, October 20, 1975, at 9:00 pm on CBS. Photo: CBS

In a career that spanned more than 50 years, he worked extensively on stage, television, and film. For his efforts, he was nominated for a Tony Award for his portrayal of Nathan Detroit in Guys and Dolls, and twice won an Emmy Award for his portrayal of the character Benson DuBois, once in 1979 on Soap and in 1985 on Benson.

He also won a Grammy Award in 1995 for his spoken word performance of an audiobook version of The Lion King.

The cast of SOAP: (l-r) Richard Mulligan, Robert Guillaume, Robert Mandan, Cathryn Damon, and Katherine Helmond.

Guillaume was born in St. Louis, Missouri, as Robert Williams. He studied at St. Louis University and Washington University and served in the United States Army before pursuing an acting career. He adopted the surname “Guillaume,” French for William, as his stage name.

After leaving university, Guillaume joined the Karamu Players in Cleveland and performed in musical comedies and opera. He toured the world in 1959 as a cast member of the Broadway musical Free and Easy. He made his Broadway debut in Kwamina in 1961.

His other stage appearances included Golden Boy, Tambourines to Glory, Guys and Dolls, for which he received a Tony Award nomination, Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris, and Purlie!.

His additional roles included Katherine Dunham’s Bambouche and in Fly The Blackbird. In 1964 he portrayed Sportin’ Life in a revival of Porgy and Bess at New York’s City Center.

TV Guide Special: The Third Annual YEAR IN TELEVISION 1981. This retrospective of the 1981 television season includes clips from the year’s television programs, as well as highlights from previous years. Hosts: Lee Remick, Robert Guillaume, and Dick Cavett. Air date: February 8, 1982, Monday 9:00 PM on NBC

Guillaume was a member of the Robert de Cormier Singers, performing in concerts and on television. He recorded an LP record, Columbia CS9033, titled Just Arrived as a member of The Pilgrims, a folk trio, with Angeline Butler and Millard Williams.

Columbia records producer, Tom Wilson, had set out to create the Pilgrims as an answer to the popular folk trio, Peter, Paul, and Mary.

By early 1964, the Pilgrims had recorded a handful of songs and Wilson was looking for the right song for the group’s debut single when then-unknown singer/songwriter, Paul Simon arrived for a meeting with Wilson and eventually pitched his new composition, The Sound of Silence. Wilson liked the song, had Simon record a demo for the group, but when Simon and his friend, Art Garfunkel, sang the song for Wilson in person, he signed them to a record contract instead of using it for The Pilgrims. ( In the sixties he was in Vienna, Austria at the Vienna Volksoper. Marcel Prawy engaged Robert Guillaume for the role of Sportin’ Life in Porgy and Bess.

Later in his stage career, he was cast in the lead role in the Los Angeles production of The Phantom of the Opera replacing Michael Crawford.


As Benson in Soap, 1977.

Guillaume made several guest appearances on sitcoms, including Good Times, The Jeffersons, Sanford and Son, Saved By The Bell: The College Years and in the 1990s sitcoms The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and A Different World. His series-regular debut was on the ABC series Soap, playing Benson, a butler, from 1977 to 1979.

Guillaume continued the role in a spin-off series, Benson, from 1979 until 1986. Guillaume also played Dr. Franklin in season 6, episode 8 (“Chain Letter”) of the series All in the Family, which he coyly referenced Marcus Welby, M.D., a TV series in which he had guest-starred on in 1970.

Katherine Helmond, Robert Mandan, and Robert Guillaume on SOAP, Thursdays at 9:30 pm on ABC.

In 1985, Guillaume appeared in the television mini-series North and South as abolitionist leader Fredrick Douglass, who escaped from slavery and became a leader of the anti-slavery movement prior to the American Civil War.
He also appeared as marriage counselor Edward Sawyer on The Robert Guillaume Show (1989), Detective Bob Ballard on Pacific Station (1991–1992), and television executive Isaac Jaffe on Aaron Sorkin’s short-lived but critically acclaimed Sports Night (1998–2000).

Robert Guillaume stars on NBC’s Pacific Station debuting on September 15, 1991, at 8 PM ET/PT. Photo: Touchstone Television

Guillaume suffered a mild stroke on January 14, 1999, while filming an episode of the latter series. He recovered and his character was later also depicted as having had a stroke. He also made a guest appearance on 8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter.


His voice was employed for characters in television series Captain Planet and the Planeteers, Fish Police, and Happily Ever After: Fairy Tales for Every Child. He was known for the voice of Rafiki in the movie The Lion King and its sequels and spin-offs. He voiced Mr. Thicknose in The Land Before Time VIII: The Big Freeze. He also supplied the voice for Eli Vance in the 2004 video game Half-Life 2 and its subsequent sequels.

Personal life and death

Robert Guillaume with Alex Trebek on the set of Celebrity Jeopardy! Game 5 October 30, 1992, Robert Guillaume vs. Ed Begley Jr. vs. Rosie O’Donnell. Guillaume won $10,000 for the charity: amFAR (the American Foundation for AIDS Research), Rosie O’Donnell won the round.

Guillaume was married twice; first to Marlene Williams from 1955 to 1984; the couple had two sons together. He then married Donna Brown in 1986; the couple had a daughter. His son Jacques died on December 23, 1990, at the age of 33 due to complications of AIDS.

In 1999, Guillaume suffered a stroke while working on Sports Night at Walt Disney Studios in Burbank, California. The stroke was minor, causing relatively slight damage and little effect on his speech. After six weeks in the hospital, he underwent a therapy of walks and sessions in the gym.

Guillaume died on October 24, 2017, at his home in Los Angeles, California, from prostate cancer at the age of 89.


Guillaume has a star on the St. Louis Walk of Fame. On November 28, 1984, Guillaume received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for his work in the television industry.

Robert Guillaume and Richard Libertini star on NBC’s Pacific Station debuting on September 15, 1991, at 8 PM ET/PT. Photo: Touchstone Television

Robert Guillaume, James Noble, and Inga Swenson on BENSON (1981) ABC TV Photo

Robert Guillaume stars as Benson DuBois with Caroline McWilliams as Marcy Hill on Benson Thursdays at 8:30 PM EST on ABC

Robert Guillaume at the premiere of Seems Like Old Times circa 1980. Photo by Alan Light

Robert Mandan and Robert Guillaume star on SOAP Tuesdays at 9:30 PM on ABC

Robert Guillaume as State Budget Director/Lt. Gov. Benson DuBois, Caroline McWilliams as Marcy Hill, James Noble as Governor Eugene Xavier Gatling and Inga Swenson as Miss Gretchen Wilomena Kraus in Benson.

Text from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Guillaume

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