Robert Guillaume (born Robert Peter Williams; November 30, 1927 – October 24, 2017) was an American actor, known for his role as Benson on the TV-series Soap and the spin-off Benson, voicing the mandrill Rafiki in The Lion King and as Isaac Jaffe on Sports Night. In a career that spanned more than 50 years he worked extensively on stage (including a Tony Award nomination), television (including winning two Emmy Awards), and film.
Guillaume was born in St. Louis, Missouri., as Robert Williams. He studied at St. Louis University and Washington University and served in the United States Army before pursuing an acting career. He adopted the surname “Guillaume,” French for William, as his stage name.
After leaving the university, Guillaume joined the Karamu Players in Cleveland and performed in musical comedies and opera. He toured the world in 1959 as a cast member of the Broadway musical Free and Easy. He made his Broadway debut in Kwamina in 1961. His other stage appearances included Golden Boy, Tambourines to Glory, Guys and Dolls, for which he received a Tony Award nomination, Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris, and Purlie!. His additional roles included Katherine Dunham‘s Bambouche and in Fly The Blackbird.
In 1964 he portrayed Sportin’ Life in a revival of Porgy and Bess at New York’s City Center. Guillaume was a member of the Robert de Cormier Singers, performing in concerts and on television. 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. In the sixties he was in Vienna, Austria at the Vienna Volksoper. Marcel Prawy engaged Robert Guillaume for the role of Sporting Life in Porgy and Bess.
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. His series-regular debut was on the ABC series Soap, playing Benson, a butler, from 1977 to 1979. Guillaume continued the role in a spin-off series, Benson, from 1979 until 1986. Guillaume also played Dr. Franklin in season 6, episode 8 (“Chain Letter”) of the series All in the Family, which he coyly referenced Marcus Welby, M.D., a TV series in which he had guest-starred on in 1970.
In 1985, Guillaume appeared in the television mini-series North and South as abolitionist leader Fredrick Douglass, who escaped from slavery and became a leader of the anti-slavery movement prior to the American Civil War.
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). Guillaume suffered a mild stroke on January 14, 1999, while filming an episode of the latter series. 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.
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. He was known for the voice of Rafiki in the movie The Lion King and its sequels and spin-offs. He voiced Mr. Thicknose in The Land Before Time VIII: The Big Freeze. He also supplied the voice for Eli Vance in the 2004 video game Half-Life 2 and its subsequent sequels.
Personal life and death
Guillaume was married twice; first to Marlene Williams from 1955 to 1984; the couple had two sons together. He then married Donna Brown in 1986; the couple had a daughter. His son Jacques died on December 23, 1990, at the age of 33 due to complications of AIDS.
In 1999, Guillaume suffered a stroke while working on Sports Night at Walt Disney Studios in Burbank, California. The stroke was minor, causing relatively slight damage and little effect on his speech. After six weeks in the hospital, he underwent a therapy of walks and sessions in the gym.
- Super Fly T.N.T. (1973)
- The Kid from Left Field (1979)
- Seems Like Old Times (1980)
- The Kid with the Broken Halo (1982)
- The Kid with the 200 I.Q. (1983)
- Prince Jack (1985)
- North and South (1985)
- Wanted: Dead or Alive (1987)
- Lean on Me (1989)
- Death Warrant (1990)
- The Meteor Man (1993)
- The Lion King (1994)
- First Kid (1996)
- Spy Hard (1996)
- The Lion King II: Simba’s Pride (1998)
- The Land Before Time VIII: The Big Freeze (2001)
- The 13th Child: Legend of the Jersey Devil (2002)
- Unchained Memories (2003)
- Big Fish (2003)
- The Lion King 1½ (2004)
- The Secrets of Jonathan Sperry (2009)
- Columbus Circle (2012)
Awards and nominations
|1979||Soap||Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series||Won|
|1985||Benson||Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series||Won|
|1995||“The Lion King” Read-a-long Book||Grammy Award for Best Spoken Word Album for Children||Won|
- Richard Huff (January 21, 1999). “Stroke Sidelines Guillaume”. New York Daily News. Retrieved August 27,2011.
- Jeremy Gerard (June 12, 1994). “The Lion King”. Variety. Retrieved August 27, 2011.
- “Robert Guillaume, Emmy Award Winning-Star of ‘Benson’, Dies at 89”. The New York Times. October 24, 2017. Retrieved October 24, 2017.
- “‘Benson’ star Robert Guillaume dead at 89”. Chicago Tribune. October 24, 2017. Retrieved October 24,2017.
- “Robert Guillaume”. Biography. Retrieved October 24, 2017.
- “Robert Guillaume, Emmy-winning actor in ‘Soap’ and ‘Benson,’ dies at 89”. The Los Angeles Times. October 24, 2017. Retrieved October 24, 2017.
- “Robert Guillaume”. The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved October 24, 2017.
- Ellen Hawkes (May 24, 1992). “The Anger Sustained Me”. Toledo Blade. Retrieved August 27, 2011.
- “Robert Guillaume”. Seattle Times. Retrieved October 24, 2017.
- “Robert Guillaume Emmy Winning for Soap actor dies at 89”. San Francisco Gate. October 24, 2017. Retrieved October 24, 2017.
- Guillaume, Robert (October 20, 1975). “Emmy TV Legends Interviews”. www.emmytvlegends.org. Emmy TV Legends. Retrieved August 2, 2017.
Boy, that Marcus Welby must make fifteen million house calls a week
- “Emmy-winning actor Robert Guillaume dies at age 89”. KGTV. October 24, 2017. Retrieved October 24, 2017.
- “Mr. Thicknose”. Behind the Voice Actors. Retrieved October 24, 2017.
- “Half-Life 2 voice cast revealed”. Game Spot. June 25, 2004. Retrieved October 24, 2017.
- St. Louis Walk of Fame. “St. Louis Walk of Fame Inductees”. stlouiswalkoffame.org. Retrieved April 25, 2013.
- “Robert Guillaume | Hollywood Walk of Fame”. www.walkoffame.com. Retrieved October 4, 2016.
- “Robert Guillaume – Hollywood Star Walk – Los Angeles Times”. projects.latimes.com. Retrieved October 4, 2016.
- “Robert Guillaume, Emmy-winning Benson and Sports Night actor, dies at 89”. EW. October 24, 2017. Retrieved October 24, 2017.
- “Robert Guillaume”. TV Guide. Retrieved October 24,2017.
- “Robert Guillaume”. Hollywood. Retrieved October 24,2017.
- “Overview for Robert Guillaume”. Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved October 24, 2017.
- “Outstanding Supporting Actor In A Comedy Or Comedy-Variety Or Music Series 1979”. Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. Retrieved August 27, 2011.
- “Outstanding Lead Actor In A Comedy Series 1985”. Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. Retrieved August 27, 2011.
- “Biography”. Retrieved September 7, 2012.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Robert Guillaume.|
- Official website
- Robert Guillaume on IMDb
- Robert Guillaume at the Internet Broadway Database
- Robert Guillaume at the Internet Off-Broadway Database
- St. Louis Walk of Fame
- Robert Guillaume’s oral history video excerpts at The National Visionary Leadership Project
- Robert Guillaume interview video at the Archive of American Television