This is a death that you, your mom, your grandma and your little cousin can mourn together, because all generations were touched by the brilliance of Robert Guillaume. He was Benson. He was Rafiki in The Lion King. He was Isaac Jaffe in Sports Night. And now he’s serenading the angels with his plush velvet voice.
Robert Guillaume’s wife of 31 years, Donna Brown Guillaume, told the Associated Press that he died of complications of prostate cancer at their home in Los Angeles today. He was 89.
Robert started out in musical theater, and was in a few Broadway productions before he was cast as Nathan Detroit in an all-black revival of Guys and Dolls in 1976. He was nominated for a Tony. He also got into TV and made guest appearances on The Jeffersons, All in the Family, Good Times and Sanford and Son. But in 1977, he got his big break when he was cast as Benson on Soap, and two years later he got his own spin-off series. I wasn’t even a jizz fish when Soap aired, but I regularly watched the later seasons of Benson. And those were the days before streaming, DVR and recording shows on VHS, so you had to make sure your ass was in front of the TV when your favorite show aired. That showed real love of a TV show.
Benson ran for 7 seasons from 1979 to 1986. Playing Benson got Robert Guillaume a Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series Emmy (for Soap) and a Best Actor in a Comedy Series Emmy (for Benson).
After Benson, Robert replaced Michael Crawford in the Los Angeles production of Phantom of the Opera. He was also in North and South, and guest starred on a million more TV shows including A Different World and Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. During his run on Sports Night in 1999, he suffered a stroke and it was written into the show.
I would post clips from Benson, but the theater queen in me has commanded me to post this video of Robert Guillaume singing his half-mask off as the Phantom.
Rest in peace, Robert Guillaume.