Actor Robert Guillaume who is best known for his role as ‘Benson’ has died. He was 89 years old.
Guillaume was battling prostate cancer and died at his home in Los Angeles, according to his widow, Donna Brown Guillaume.
Early in his career, Guillaume earned a Tony nomination in 1977 for his portrayal of Nathan Detroit in the first all-black version of “Guys and Dolls.”
He became the first African-American to sing the title role of “Phantom of the Opera,” appearing with an all-white cast in Los Angeles.
While playing in “Guys and Dolls, he was asked to test for the role of an acerbic butler of a governor’s mansion in “Soap,” a primetime TV sitcom that satirized soap operas that ran from 1977-80. The Benson character garnered its own spinoff show which lasted from 1979-86.
“The minute I saw the script, I knew I had a live one,” he recalled in 2001. “Every role was written against type, especially Benson, who wasn’t subservient to anyone. To me, Benson was the revenge for all those stereotyped guys who looked like Benson in the ’40s and ’50s (movies) and had to keep their mouths shut.”
He is also best known for voicing the mischievous but wise ‘Rafiki’ in the Disney smash hit “The Lion King” in 1991.
Guillaume also starred in the critically acclaimed Aaron Sorkin series Sports Night, which aired on ABC, as Isaac Jaffe, the managing editor of a ESPN-style news program.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.