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Robert Guillaume
Guillaume at the premiere of Seems Like Old Times in 1980
Born Robert Peter Williams
(1927-11-30)November 30, 1927
St Louis, Missouri, U.S.
Died October 24, 2017(2017-10-24) (aged 89)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Alma mater Washington University in St. Louis
Occupation Actor
Years active 1959–2014
Spouse(s) Marlene Williams
(m. 1955; div. 1984)

Donna Brown-Guillaume (m. 1986)
Children 5

Robert Guillaume (born Robert Peter Williams; November 30, 1927 – October 24, 2017) was an American actor and singer, known for his role as Benson in the television series Soap and its spin-off Benson,[1] as well as for voicing the mandrill Rafiki in The Lion King and related media thereof. 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.

Early life[]

Guillaume was born in St. Louis, Missouri,[2] as Robert Williams, to an alcoholic mother.[3] After being abandoned by her, he and several siblings were raised by their grandmother Jeannette Williams.[4] He studied at St. Louis University and Washington University and served in the United States Army before pursuing an acting career.[5] He adopted the surname "Guillaume", French for William, as his stage name.



George Goodman, William Ray, Robert Guillaume and Olive Moorefield, rehearsal of Porgy and Bess, Théâtre du Capitole. Archives de Toulouse.

After leaving university, Guillaume joined the Karamu Players in Cleveland and performed in musical comedies and opera.[6] He toured the world in 1959 as a cast member of the Broadway musical Free and Easy.[7] He made his Broadway debut in Kwamina in 1961.[8] His other stage appearances included Golden Boy (with Sammy Davis Jr.),[9] Tambourines to Glory, Guys and Dolls, for which he received a Tony Award nomination,[10] Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris, and Purlie!.[6] His additional roles included Katherine Dunham's Bambouche and in Fly The Blackbird.[5]

In 1964 he portrayed Sportin' Life in a revival of Porgy and Bess at New York's City Center.[2] Guillaume was a member of the Robert de Cormier Singers, performing in concerts and on television.[4] He recorded a LP record, Columbia CS9033, titled Just Arrived as a member of The Pilgrims, a folk trio, with Angeline Butler and Millard Williams.[7] 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.[11] (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.)[6]

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.[8]


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.[8] His series-regular debut was on the ABC series Soap, playing Benson, a butler, from 1977 to 1979.[12] Guillaume continued the role in a spin-off series, Benson, from 1979 until 1986.[2] Guillaume also played Dr. Franklin in season 6, episode 8 ("Chain Letter") of the series All in the Family, in which he coyly referenced Marcus Welby, M.D., a TV series in which he had guest-starred in 1970.[13]

In 1985, Guillaume appeared in the television mini-series North and South as abolitionist leader Frederick Douglass, who escaped from slavery and became a leader of the anti-slavery movement prior to the American Civil War.[4]

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).[2] Guillaume suffered a mild stroke on January 14, 1999, while filming an episode of the latter series.[1] 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.[12] He made one of his final TV appearances during season 5 on Oprah: Where Are They Now?

Voice acting[]

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.[5] He was known for the voice of Rafiki in the movie The Lion King and its sequels and spin-offs.[14] He voiced Mr. Thicknose in The Land Before Time VIII: The Big Freeze.[15] He also supplied the voice for Eli Vance in the 2004 video game Half-Life 2 and its immediate episodic sequels.[16]

Personal life[]

Guillaume was married twice; first to Marlene Williams in 1955, with whom he had two sons, Kevin and Jacques. Despite Guillaume choosing to follow his career early in the marriage, they did not divorce until 1984.[4] He had a daughter in 1980, Melissa, whom he raised with her mother, Patricia. He then married Donna Brown in 1986; the couple had a daughter, Rachel.[6][8] He fathered but did not raise another daughter by a different mother, Patricia, born in 1950, who was raised by her grandparents.[4] His son Jacques died on December 23, 1990, at the age of 32, of complications of AIDS.[6]

In 1999, Guillaume suffered a stroke while working on Sports Night at Walt Disney Studios in Burbank, California.[7] The stroke was minor, causing relatively slight damage and little effect on his speech.[2] After six weeks in the hospital, he underwent a therapy of walks and sessions in the gym.[7]


Guillaume died of prostate cancer on October 24, 2017, at his home in Los Angeles, California.[12]


Guillaume has a star on the St. Louis Walk of Fame.[17] On November 28, 1984, Guillaume received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for his work in the television industry.[18][19]


  • Super Fly T.N.T. (1973) – Jordan Gaines
  • Good Times (1977) – Fishbone – Theodopius P. Johnson
  • Soap (1977–1980, TV series) – Benson DuBois
  • The Kid from Left Field (1979, TV movie) – Larry Cooper
  • Benson (1979–1986, TV series) – Benson DuBois
  • Seems Like Old Times (1980) – Fred
  • The Kid with the Broken Halo (1982, TV movie) – Blake
  • The Kid with the 200 I.Q. (1983, TV movie) – Professor Mills
  • Prince Jack (1985) – Martin Luther King Jr.
  • John Grin's Christmas (1986) – John Grin. Guillaume also directed film.
  • North and South (1985, TV miniseries) – Frederick Douglass
  • Wanted: Dead or Alive (1987) – Philmore Walker
  • They Still Call Me Bruce (1987) – V.A. Officer
  • Lean on Me (1989) – Dr. Frank Napier
  • The Penthouse (1989) – Eugene St. Clair
  • Death Warrant (1990) – Hawkins
  • Fish Police (1992) – Detective Catfish (voice)
  • The Meteor Man (1993) – Ted Reed, Jeff's Father
  • The Lion King (1994) – Rafiki (voice)
  • Captain Planet and the Planeteers (1994) – Citizen (voice)
  • Happily Ever After: Fairy Tales for Every Child (1995–2000, TV series) – Narrator (voice)
  • Spy Hard (1996) – Agent Steve Bishop
  • First Kid (1996) – Wilkes
  • The Lion King II: Simba's Pride (1998, Video) – Rafiki (voice)
  • Sports Night (1998–2000, TV series) – Isaac Jaffe
  • Silicon Towers (1999) – Detective Green
  • The Land Before Time VIII: The Big Freeze (2001, Video) – Mr. Thicknose (voice)
  • The 13th Child: Legend of the Jersey Devil (2002) – Riley
  • Unchained Memories (2003) – Reader
  • Big Fish (2003) – Dr. Bennett
  • The Lion King 1½ (2004, Video) – Rafiki (voice)
  • The Secrets of Jonathan Sperry (2009) – Mr. Barnes
  • Satin (2011) – Doc Bishop
  • Columbus Circle (2012) – Howard Miles

Awards and nominations[]

Year Association Award category Result
1977 Guys and Dolls Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical Nominated
Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Actor in a Musical Nominated
1979 Soap Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series Won[24]
1980 Benson Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series Nominated
1982 Nominated
1983 Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Television Series Musical or Comedy Nominated
Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series Nominated
1984 Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Television Series Musical or Comedy Nominated
Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series Nominated
1985 Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Television Series Musical or Comedy Nominated
Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series Won[25]
1995 The Lion King Read-Along Grammy Award for Best Spoken Word Album for Children Won[26]
2000 Sports Night Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Comedy Series Nominated
Happily Ever After: Fairy Tales for Every Child Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Performer in an Animated Program Nominated


  1. 1.0 1.1 Richard Huff (January 21, 1999). "Stroke Sidelines Guillaume". New York Daily News. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 Slotnik, Daniel E. (October 24, 2017). "Robert Guillaume, Emmy Award Winning-Star of 'Benson', Dies at 89". The New York Times. 
  3. "Robert Guillaume Biography - " Family "Pulled Together, A Dream Becomes a Career, From Tony Award to Television". Retrieved November 29, 2019. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 "Robert Guillaume". Seattle Times. 
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 "'Benson' star Robert Guillaume dead at 89". Chicago Tribune. October 24, 2017. 
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 "Robert Guillaume". Biography. 
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 "Robert Guillaume, Emmy-winning actor in 'Soap' and 'Benson,' dies at 89". The Los Angeles Times. October 24, 2017. 
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 "Robert Guillaume". The Los Angeles Times. 
  9. Guillaume, Robert; Ritz, David (2002). Guillaume, A life. Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press. p. 82. 
  10. Ellen Hawkes (May 24, 1992). "The Anger Sustained Me". Toledo Blade.,6581491&dq=robert-guillaume+tony&hl=en. 
  11. "Homeward Bound". Retrieved November 29, 2019. 
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 "Emmy Award-winning "Benson" star Robert Guillaume dies at 89". San Francisco Gate. December 26, 2017. Archived from the original on October 25, 2017. 
  13. Guillaume, Robert (October 20, 1975). "Emmy TV Legends Interviews". Emmy TV Legends. ""Boy, that Marcus Welby must make fifteen million house calls a week"" 
  14. "Emmy-winning actor Robert Guillaume dies at age 89". KGTV. October 24, 2017. 
  15. "Mr. Thicknose". Behind the Voice Actors. 
  16. "Half-Life 2 voice cast revealed". Game Spot. June 25, 2004. 
  17. St. Louis Walk of Fame. "St. Louis Walk of Fame Inductees". 
  18. "Robert Guillaume | Hollywood Walk of Fame". 
  19. "Robert Guillaume – Hollywood Star Walk – Los Angeles Times". 
  20. "Robert Guillaume, Emmy-winning Benson and Sports Night actor, dies at 89". EW. October 24, 2017. 
  21. "Robert Guillaume". TV Guide. 
  22. "Robert Guillaume". Hollywood. 
  23. "Overview for Robert Guillaume". 
  24. "Outstanding Supporting Actor In A Comedy Or Comedy-Variety Or Music Series 1979". Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. 
  25. "Outstanding Lead Actor In A Comedy Series 1985". Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. 
  26. "Biography". 

External links[]

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