Robert Guillaume Dies; Benson & The Lion King Actor Was 89
Sad news out of Hollywood today, as Emmy-winning actor Robert Guillaume has passed away at the age of 89.
Reports of Guillaume’s death were confirmed this afternoon by his wife of 31 years, Donna Guillaume.
You may not be familiar with Guillaume’s name, but if you’re a film and television fan, you’ve almost certainly encountered and enchanted by his work.
For seven seasons, Guillaume portrayed the title character on the ABC sitcom Benson, a spinoff of the popular series Soap, on which he also starred.
His work on the two shows earned Guillaume a pair of Emmys.
While Benson may be the role fans most commonly associate with Guillaume, the Broadway alum went on to produce decades of acclaimed work on both stage and screen after his signature series came to an end.
Almost as well known for his rich baritone voice as he was for his comic timing, Benson was nominated for a Tony for his work in a 1977 production of Guys and Dolls.
Guillaume later became the first African-American actor to play the title role in The Phanton of the Opera.
To younger fans, he’s perhaps best known as the voice of Rafiki in the 1994 Disney animated classic The Lion King.
Throughout the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s, Guillaume remained a television staple appearing in guest roles on such popular series as Good Times, The Jeffersons, Sanford and Son, Saved By The Bell: The College Years, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and A Different World.
In his later years, Guillaume appeared in Tim Burton’s Big Fish, and was a regular on the short-lived, but critically-acclaimed Aaron Sorkin sitcom Sports Night.
After suffering a stroke in 1999, Guillaume returned to Sports Night, and his slight speech impairment and reliance upon a cane were written into the show in a memorable story arc.
The actor was widely applauded by health advocacy groups for his honest and courageous portrayal of life after a stroke.
All told, Guillaume racked up nearly 100 screen credits over the course of his 50-year career.
He is survived by his wife and four children.