by TRN Staff Writers
Actor Robert Guillaume was best known as the wise and wise cracking butler who rose in the ranks on his sitcom “Benson”. On Tuesday, the star of stage and screen took his final bow .
Guillaume died at his Los Angeles home with his wife Donna Brown-Guillaume at his side. His wife said, “He kinda went the way everyone wishes they could, surrounded by love and in his sleep.” The actor had fought a rough battle with prostrate cancer. He was 89.
Guillaume grew up in his hometown of St. Louis where everyone knew him as Robert Williams. He chose Guillaume as a stage name once he decided Hollywood was where he wanted to be. Guillaume started out with bit parts in musical comedies and operas. In 1959 he was on Broadway as a cast member in the musical “Free and Easy”. Broadway would be Guillaume’s home for the next few years as roles in “Golden Boy” “Guys and Dolls and “Purlie” would help him perfect his acting chops. t wasn’t long before Guillaume landed a lead role in a revival of “Porgy and Best”. His stage and singing career earned him Tony nominations and lead to him landing the lead role in a west coast production of “The Phantom of the Opera”.
Guillaume soon proved his talent was too big for just the stage as TV offers came pouring in. After guest appearances on sitcoms like “Good Times” and “The Jeffersons”, Guillaume’s big break came with the 1977 role on an ABC comedy called “Soap”. Guillaume played the acerbic butler Benson and it was comedy gold. His character was so unforgettable and popular that after two years, Guillaume was starring in his own spin off series called “Benson”. The sitcom aired from 1979 to 1986.
After that series ended, Guillaume starred as a marriage counselor in “The Robert Guillaume Show”. The versatile actor would switch with ease from small screen to big screen roles like 1973’s “Super Fly T.N.T” and 1989’s “Lean on Me”. When fans didn’t see Guillaume on screen, they could hear him as that distinctively familiar voice on some of their favorite shows and movies. Guillaume became a beloved favorite of both parents and kids as the voice of Rafiki in the animated movie “The Lion King” and its sequels.
Guillaume won an Emmy for his role on “Soap” and his show “Benson”. He also earned a Grammy in the Best Spoken Word album for his read-a-long Book “The Lion King” and was bestowed a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Guillaume disappeared from the public eye around 1999 when he suffered a stroke while working at Disney Studios in California on the show “Sports Night”. The stroke slightly affected his voice, but Guillaume fought his way to healing by undergoing therapy weeks of therapy.
Guillaume’s death comes just one month shy of what would have been his 90th birthday. For almost sixty years, Guillaume dedicated his life to making people laugh, his death will leave a little less joy in the world.
We here at TRN extend our deepest condolences to Guillaume’s wife, his children, family and fans. Rest in paradise Mr. Guillaume.