Robert Guillaume, Emmy Award winner best known as butler Benson, dies aged 89

FP Staff

Oct,25 2017 12:07 12 IST

Robert Guillaume, one of the prominent black actors of American television has died of prostate cancer, at his Los Angeles home. He was aged 89, as reported by Variety.

 Robert Guillaume. Getty Images

Robert Guillaume. Getty Images

The Emmy Award-winning actor was best known for playing the sarcastic and witty butler Benson Du Bois on two hugely popular TV series, Soap (1977), and a spin-off with Guillaume in the lead in Benson (1979).

He is also known for voicing Rafiki in The Lion King and playing the title role in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom of the Opera. Through his long career on television, despite suffering from a stroke, he continued to play the role of a fictitious sports program producer in the 1998 show Sports Night, after recovering within a few months.

But it was the role of the butler Benson Du Bois that cemented his fame, a character that was created for the parody series Soap along with Billy Crystal and Richard Mulligan in the cast, that won him his first Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actor.

The character became so popular in the '70s that the network ABC launched the spin-off show Benson with Guillame in the lead, which ran for seven seasons from 1979 to 1985. While he was nominated six times for an Emmy for his role as Benson, it was in 1985, the last time he was nominated, that he won an Emmy for the coveted outstanding lead actor in a comedy series, a first for any black actor.

As a successful Broadway and stage actor, he earned a Tony Award nomination in 1977 for his role in the famous Broadway musical Guys and Dolls.

Robert Guillaume was born on 30 November, 1927 and after serving in the military for 15 months in 1945, he went on to study music and voice training at Washington University. He started his professional career with an apprenticeship at a Cleveland theater. He is survived by his second wife, Donna Brown Guillaume, who is a TV producer, one son and three daughters.