‘Benson’ Actor Robert Guillaume Dies At 89
Actor Robert Guillaume, born Robert Williams, became the first black actor to win Emmy in comedy for playing the quick-witted, and even quicker-tongued butler turned lieutenant governor “Benson DuBois” on hit sitcom Soap and its even bigger hit spinoff, Benson, died Tuesday at age 89.
His wife Donna Guillaume told CNN he had battled prostate cancer for a number of years.
“He kinda went the way everyone wishes they could, surrounded by love and in his sleep,” Guillaume said.
She added that her husband really loved making music, entertaining and making people laugh.
Guillaume was raised in the hood of St. Louis, MO. He adopted his last name for its sophisticated French sound. He told Tavis Smiley in 2004 about the impact his career had had on him.
“I found out who I was, Robert Guillaume, Robert Williams, whatever. I found out who I was through acting, and through being Robert Guillaume, I found out how to act. And it was something that satisfied me, and I don’t think one ever gets enough of that. I’m sort of addicted to the notion that I have something to say.”
He started as a stage actor, in Purlie and an all-black revival of Guys And Dolls, and returned to the stage often in his career. Guillaume starred in Benson from 1979 – 1986. He won the Emmy for outstanding lead actor in a comedy for his performance in the role in 1985. A number of serious and comedic TV roles soon followed, including turns on A Different World and Sports Night.
Beyond Benson, after a mild stroke in 1999, Guillaume used his unique voice to play the eccentric and wise “Rafiki” in animated hit, The Lion King.
When it comes to prostate cancer, Guillaume isn’t alone. Compared with white men, African-American men are twice as likely to develop prostate cancer in their early 50s and twice as likely to die of the disease. According to the American Cancer Society, Black men are also more likely to be in an advanced stage of the disease when diagnosed. Recent findings released at the American Urological Association annual meeting also showed that black men also appear to be more likely to develop aggressive forms of prostate cancer.