Actor Robert Guillaume (born Robert Peter Williams nous a quittés RIP

Robert Guillaume

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,[1] voicing the mandrill Rafiki in The Lion King[2] 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.

Early life[edit]

Guillaume was born in St. LouisMissouri.[3], as Robert 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.



After leaving the 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 BoyTambourines to GloryGuys and Dolls, for which he received a Tony Award nomination,[9] 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.[3] Guillaume was a member of the Robert de Cormier Singers, performing in concerts and on television.[10] 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] 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.[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 TimesThe JeffersonsSanford and SonSaved 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.[11] Guillaume continued the role in a spin-off series, Benson, from 1979 until 1986.[3] 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.[12]

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.[10]

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).[3] 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.[11]


His voice was employed for characters in television series Captain Planet and the PlaneteersFish 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.[13] He voiced Mr. Thicknose in The Land Before Time VIII: The Big Freeze.[14] He also supplied the voice for Eli Vance in the 2004 video game Half-Life 2 and its subsequent sequels.[15]

Personal life and death[edit]

Guillaume was married twice; first to Marlene Williams from 1955 to 1984; the couple had two sons together.[10] He then married Donna Brown in 1986; the couple had a daughter.[8][6] His son Jacques died on December 23, 1990, at the age of 33 due to complications of AIDS.[6]

In 1999, Guillaume suffered a stroke while working on Sports Night at Walt Disney Studios in BurbankCalifornia.[7] The stroke was minor, causing relatively slight damage and little effect on his speech.[3] After six weeks in the hospital, he underwent a therapy of walks and sessions in the gym.[7]

Guillaume died on October 24, 2017, at his home in Los Angeles, California, from prostate cancer at the age of 89.[11]


Guillaume has a star on the St. Louis Walk of Fame.[16] On November 28, 1984, Guillaume received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for his work in the television industry.[17][18]


Awards and nominations[edit]

Year Association Award category Result
1979 Soap Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series Won[23]
1985 Benson Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series Won[24]
1995 The Lion King” Read-a-long Book Grammy Award for Best Spoken Word Album for Children Won[25]


  1. Jump up to:a b Richard Huff (January 21, 1999). “Stroke Sidelines Guillaume”New York Daily News. Retrieved August 27,2011.
  2. Jump up^ Jeremy Gerard (June 12, 1994). “The Lion King”. Variety. Retrieved August 27, 2011.
  3. Jump up to:a b c d e f “Robert Guillaume, Emmy Award Winning-Star of ‘Benson’, Dies at 89”The New York Times. October 24, 2017. Retrieved October 24, 2017.
  4. Jump up^
  5. Jump up to:a b c “‘Benson’ star Robert Guillaume dead at 89”Chicago Tribune. October 24, 2017. Retrieved October 24,2017.
  6. Jump up to:a b c d e “Robert Guillaume”. Biography. Retrieved October 24, 2017.
  7. Jump up to:a b c d e “Robert Guillaume, Emmy-winning actor in ‘Soap’ and ‘Benson,’ dies at 89”The Los Angeles Times. October 24, 2017. Retrieved October 24, 2017.
  8. Jump up to:a b c d “Robert Guillaume”The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved October 24, 2017.
  9. Jump up^ Ellen Hawkes (May 24, 1992). “The Anger Sustained Me”. Toledo Blade. Retrieved August 27, 2011.
  10. Jump up to:a b c “Robert Guillaume”. Seattle Times. Retrieved October 24, 2017.
  11. Jump up to:a b c “Robert Guillaume Emmy Winning for Soap actor dies at 89”. San Francisco Gate. October 24, 2017. Retrieved October 24, 2017.
  12. Jump up^ Guillaume, Robert (October 20, 1975). “Emmy TV Legends Interviews” Emmy TV Legends. Retrieved August 2, 2017Boy, that Marcus Welby must make fifteen million house calls a week
  13. Jump up^ “Emmy-winning actor Robert Guillaume dies at age 89”. KGTV. October 24, 2017. Retrieved October 24, 2017.
  14. Jump up^ “Mr. Thicknose”. Behind the Voice Actors. Retrieved October 24, 2017.
  15. Jump up^ “Half-Life 2 voice cast revealed”. Game Spot. June 25, 2004. Retrieved October 24, 2017.
  16. Jump up^ St. Louis Walk of Fame. “St. Louis Walk of Fame Inductees”. Retrieved April 25, 2013.
  17. Jump up^ “Robert Guillaume | Hollywood Walk of Fame” Retrieved October 4, 2016.
  18. Jump up^ “Robert Guillaume – Hollywood Star Walk – Los Angeles Times” Retrieved October 4, 2016.
  19. Jump up^ “Robert Guillaume, Emmy-winning Benson and Sports Night actor, dies at 89”. EW. October 24, 2017. Retrieved October 24, 2017.
  20. Jump up^ “Robert Guillaume”TV Guide. Retrieved October 24,2017.
  21. Jump up^ “Robert Guillaume”. Hollywood. Retrieved October 24,2017.
  22. Jump up^ “Overview for Robert Guillaume”Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved October 24, 2017.
  23. Jump up^ “Outstanding Supporting Actor In A Comedy Or Comedy-Variety Or Music Series 1979”. Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. Retrieved August 27, 2011.
  24. Jump up^ “Outstanding Lead Actor In A Comedy Series 1985”. Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. Retrieved August 27, 2011.
  25. Jump up^ “Biography”. Retrieved September 7, 2012.

External links[edit]


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