Emmy Winning Actor Robert Guillaume Dies At 89

Variety reports:

Emmy Award-winning actor Robert Guillaume, best known as the title character in the TV sitcom “Benson,” died Tuesday. He was 89. His wife Donna Brown Guillaume told the Associated Press he died at their Los Angeles home of complications of prostate cancer.

Guillaume often played acerbic, dry-witted, but ultimately lovable characters like the butler Benson Du Bois, which he created on the 1977 series “Soap,” before his character was spun off in 1979. Guillaume won Emmys both for “Soap” (as supporting actor) and “Benson” (as lead actor).

He was also known as the the voice of Rafiki in “The Lion King,” for which he also won a Grammy for a spoken word recording. Guillaume possessed a powerful, mellifluous voice, which he used most notably to play the title role in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Phantom of the Opera” onstage.

Guillaume had a minor disco hit in 1979 with his version of I (Who Have Nothing), which I recall quite fondly. He also earned a Tony nomination in 1976 for his performance in the all-black revival of Guys And Dolls.

  • JoeMyGod

    Guillaume’s gay son died of AIDS in 1990. I had to look that up just now because I faintly remembered his speaking eloquently about it a fundraiser many years ago.

    • Todd20036

      Damn. Just damn.

      • JWC

        Just loved his characters

    • Lars Littlefield

      Was Robert Guillaume’s son named Robert Jr.? Because this is another celebrity who I swear I thought died 29 years ago. No disrespect, but WTF?

      Also, he suffered a couple of serious debilitating stroke about 20 teas ago. He went back to work on a later sit com, but ended up having to quit because of difficulty being able to talk.

    • Kruhn

      I just saw the news and it’s truly sad to hear. Robert Guillaume was also the narrator of the HBO Animated Fairy Tales show. I’m bummed

  • Jean-Marc in Canada

    Rip Benson 🙁

  • Pollos Hermanos

    Benson on Soap was one of my favorite characters.

    The spinoff not as much.

    • jerry

      Yes, I fondly remember his role on Soap. I had no knowledge of his musical recordings or onstage performances.

      • Pollos Hermanos

        He was fantastic in Phantom of the Opera

        • jerry

          Yeah, I just listened to “Music of the Night” above…I like his version better than Michael Crawford.

  • HeyYouKidsGetOffMyLawn

    So multi-talented, in every way.

  • Sam_Handwitch
    • Pollos Hermanos
      • Robincho

        Helfond was great also, in that weird way she had…

    • Goodboy

      I seem to recall this shown before/after Give me a break. It was all great inspite of the fact that we only had about 5 channels to choose from. Ah childhood memories.

      • motordog

        Remember actually having to ‘change a dial’? Over here in SE PA we had, in addition to the networks, channels 17, 29, and 48…and PBS, of course.

        • djcoastermark

          And “clicker ” remotes on TV’s. The kind where you could just rattle a set of car keys and the channel would change.

        • Hue-Man

          Wasn’t a problem; when my parents bought a TV, there was only one TV station – CBC. The only time we saw more channels was when we traveled across the border to Washington state. I don’t think we ever had cable when I was growing up.

  • ted-

    RIP “Benson.” You entertained my childhood, for that, thank you for being you… 🙁

  • gaycuckhubby

    OT… who’s been teaching the Senators shade?
    The library is open!

    • safari

      Also, #TrumpDayCareActivities is trending on twitter.

  • safari

    Every day feels like an episode of Soap.

    RIP, dear sir.

    • Todd20036

      No. Then it would be funny.

      Every day feels like a fucking nightmare, and the best thing I can say is we aren’t in WWIII yet.

      • safari

        Congress had better get on that bill that requires their approval to pre-emptively strike with our nuclear arsenal.

        • Todd20036

          As much as I hate Trump, I hate the Congressional Nazis even more.

          Fucking cowards.

  • Paula

    I told my daughters. They are upset, he was Rafiki on the Lion King. 🙁
    RIP Benson.

  • I’m beginning to envy the dead.

    • Christopher

      I’ve been envying the dead since I was a kid.

  • another_steve

    Eighty-nine is a good long run.

    May he rest in peace.

  • NZArtist

    ‘Soap’ was the first-ever positive portrayal of a gay person I ever saw. Billy Crystal had such an important impact on my life.

    And I loved the way Robert Guillaume played such an uflappable character in the face of the chaos that was the premise of ‘Soap’. Ah, memories.

    • KevInPDX

      Didn’t Billy Crystals character get pregnant on Soap?
      I can still hear in my head my father groan (and make a comment) when that show came on because of the “gay theme” of the show.

      • Hal Witherspoon

        You are thinking of the Joan Rivers movie, Rabbit Test.

    • pablo

      He never had a relationship with a man. Was willing to have a sex change to be with a guy. Attempted suicide. Fell in love with a woman, and became straight. Not such a positive portrayal.

      • Karl Dubhe

        He didn’t rape children…

        For the time, we’ll have to take what we can get.

      • NZArtist

        I only really watched the first season. It was quite good, but it got really odd in later seasons and I lost interest. Back in the late 70s early 80s that’s as positive as it got.
        These were the years I was being beaten up at school and regularly called a faggot and homo.
        It seemed positive to me anyway.

    • Snarky

      I thought Crystal’s “Jodie” was a little problematic. I was teenage closeted when Soap was on, during the time that Anita Bryant was running around making our lives miserable, and was hopeful that the first openly gay character I’d seen on network TV would be more empowering, or something.

      It was a comedy, I shouldn’t have put that kind of weight on it. But how could I not? So when he wore dresses or attempted suicide, I thought “that’s not me.” I was too young to know that his portrayal of a gay man, while clearly imperfect, was ahead of how we were portrayed in so much other mass media and entertainment at the time.

      All that being said, it was a really well-written and -acted show. Groundbreaking in many ways. R.I.P. Mr. Guillaume.

      • BobSF_94117

        There was something very off-putting about it for me. It certainly didn’t help that the first gay character was played by a straight guy. I wonder if anyone in the production team was gay.

  • David in Palm Springs

    Yet the amoral scumbag King Cheeto McMoron still walks among us. I’d love to hear God’s explanation for that.

  • Sam_Handwitch
    • Lazycrockett

      I thought one of the Republican candidates that was running in the primary paid for the dossier?

      • Pretty sure reporting a long ways back had Jeb Bush’s backers paying to start the dossier. Then later on, as we’ve learned today, the HRC/DNC people pushed it a little further.

        But in the end, Fusion GPS completed the report on their own, without being paid for the final result.

        The part that sickens me is how many people will treat this as a poisoned well without realizing no substantive allegation in the dossier has been proven wrong.

        • gaycuckhubby

          Yep as soon as Clinton/DNC are involved 50% of voters will think its a conspiracy. Even hardcore Bernie or Busters

          • SoCalGal20

            At least they didn’t mention Nancy Pelosi by name. 🙄

        • Cuberly Deux

          That was my understanding as well.

    • gaycuckhubby

      That’s why Clinton was so confident to label him a puppet of Putin. She had seen the reciepts

      • Lazycrockett

        All you had to do was watch AM Joy back July 16 to know he was a Russian puppet.

    • SoCalGal20

      I thought we already knew this?

      The story, as I had previously heard it, was that the GOP (Jeb Bush, I guess) had hired Fusion for oppo research on Trump during the primaries but then when he became the nominee, they didn’t need more oppo on him so they dropped it. Then the DNC was offered the oppo Fusion had put together and the option to keep funding it.

      I haven’t read the story yet but the above was what I’d heard discussed on Rachel’s and Lawrence’s shows back when the Steele dossier came up.

      • -M-

        That’s what I thought.

    • gaycuckhubby

      How much of an idiot is the Clinton campaign lawyer? He forcefully denied this earlier then it turns out he was a funder and facilitator.
      There was nothing wrong with them funding the dossier. Dont get caught in a cover up

    • SoCalGal20

      Buried is this story is that little shit Devin Nunes subpoened Fusion GPS ON HIS OWN for them to turn over their bank records which they are fighting in court now. There may be a ruling on Tuesday about that.

      I hope if they are forced to produce their bank records it also shows what Republican donor hired Fusion for Trump oppo research in the first place.

  • ArchiLaw

    I was sad when I read the news, then I saw the cause. Same thing I have. It hits hard.

    • djcoastermark

      Hope you’re doing well and kick it.

    • margaretpoa

      The good news is that prostate cancer is very treatable if you’re aware of it fairly early. The problem is that it’s a silent killer because sometimes symptoms don’t manifest until it’s metastatic but more often it’s because men don’t like talking to strangers about urinary tract issues. An annual DRE is a must for any man over 50 and those of African or Mediterranean decent should start at 40 and insist on a PSA test with any blood labs. Another problem is a lot of men don’t want to have someone’s finger up their butt. My 58 year old brother WHO IS A PA AND KNOWS BETTER has never had an examination for prostate cancer.

      There are rare cases of hyper aggressive prostate tumors that don’t respond to treatment and like other aggressive tumors must be excised. Most of those seem to cluster in men of Mediterranean decent from North Africa up the eastern coast through Israel, Lebanon and Jordan, north to Crimea, west into Italy and east into Turkey. Carl Sagan and Frank Zappa were some famous examples of that really aggressive cancer.

      The thing about prostate cancer is that all men will get it. If something else doesn’t kill you first, prostate cancer is in your future, just as breast cancer will eventually affect every woman if she lives long enough. It sounds grim but most people die of something else before the develop breast or prostate cancer.

      Good luck to you and all the best.

      • jmax

        I have been subjected to the “one-finger salute” every year since my late teens because of recurrent prostate infections and a family history of prostate cancer. The exam isn’t as bad as many people make it out to be, especially if you have an experienced urologist (with slender fingers). It’s also important to establish a baseline with a PSA test since changes in the number can be a first sign of problems. I find it hard to believe men don’t have take these simple tests when the consequences of not knowing can be so tragic.

    • JCF


  • Jay Mills

    Frankly, he should have been offered a better role than the butler, but he made it his own.

    • Cuberly Deux

      I still think the best scenes were btwn Benson and Jessica. They had a friendship that was made all the more deep because the actors playing the parts were so damn good. They had such awesome chemistry.

    • Karl Dubhe

      He did so well at that role that he typecast himself. 🙁

      It happens, sadly.

  • CanuckDon

    Love his disco cover of “I Who Have Nothing”…first time hearing it. I can just imagine the cheers of excitement on 1979 disco floors when Guillaume hits the high note at 1:50 which then goes into the magnificent orchestration. This was the same year that Sylvester fabulously covered it as well.


  • gaycuckhubby
    • djcoastermark

      Remember when we used to dream of an endless summer ?

      • gaycuckhubby

        Nightmares now

        • Ninja0980

          I actually miss the cool temperatures that went along with fall.

          • safari

            It was 55 and raining all day today with a wind. It was too cold.

          • Hue-Man

            Therefore global warming doesn’t exist! AKA the Snowball Rule.

    • Cuberly Deux

      Where I live in Oakland it’s 93 out today.

      For Oct:
      The average high should be 72
      The average should be 63
      The average low should be 55

      This is crazy.

    • Treant

      My cousin: “There’s no such thing as global warming.”

      Me, glancing at his newborn granddaughter, “Betcha she doesn’t ever say that. If she lives to be forty, that is.”

    • Karl Dubhe

      The temp today, here, is double the average temp. The night time temps are even higher; proportionately.

      Don’t worry, the oil companies assure me that this is a phase.

  • -M-

    I like ‘Benson’ and he was also great as Isaac in ‘Sports Night’.

    • Gigi

      I loved Benson too! Not sure if it was good or not but I remember it fondly.

      • -M-

        Loved the sparring between Benson, Kraus, and Clayton. And Benson’s muttered asides.

    • -M-


      Wish I could find the cheese grater scene too.

    • mikeindc

      great clip. that show was so loaded with great talent.

  • Ninja0980

    I remember him as the voice of Rafiki.

  • Disqusdmnj

    “Soap” was one of the first shows I remember watching with my parents on a regular basis (I was about 9 or 10). There was one scene I remember to this day, where many of the characters were gathered at the Tate residence, and the doorbell rang. There was a slight pause, and Benson goes, “You want me to get that?”

    At the time, I thought that was one of the funniest, most well-timed phrases I’d ever heard… and it still is.

    I would never discount the other work he did, but damned if that one moment doesn’t stick out.

    • JauntyJohn

      I remember that exact moment! Timing and delivery like that can’t be taught. In an odd show filled with many gems, that was brilliant.

      • M Jackson

        I remember I loved Corinne, Jessica, and Robert Urich in the shower, and damn if that puppet wasn’t funny!

    • jmax

      Not only the timing, but Benson was so much smarter than his employers – and you could hear the condescension in his voice every time. His character would have been called “uppity” at one time but it was so smartly written and performed that it you couldn’t help but love it.

      • RobynWatts

        I remember reading somewhere that Guillaume’s character was meant to be a tribute to Eddie Anderson (Rochester on Jack Benny’s radio and later TV program.).

        • Disqusdmnj

          Makes total sense!

    • M Jackson

      I just laughed. I can picture it. Thanks, it was such a funny show. I caught it in reruns in college, every week night after the news and before the hot new late night show, David Letterman.

  • Lakeview Bob

    Gosh I had no idea he was that old.

  • SoCalGal20

    Awwww I loved him on “Soap” and “Benson”. RIP Mr. Guillaume.

  • Phil2u

    Oh no!

  • Karl Dubhe

    The world’s getting poorer, with every death of the great and good. QQ

  • RobynWatts

    Frederick Douglass is gone….😞 (For those that don’t remember, Guillaume had a roll as Frederick Douglass in the ABC miniseries “North and South” back in the mid-80s.)

    RIP, Robert Guillaume.

  • kaydenpat

    Benson!! R.I.P.

  • Secure

    I liked Benson.

  • fuzzybits

    RIP Mr. Guillaume.

  • M Jackson

    “Soap”. Benson. Legendary. Thank you.

  • MDixon34

    Soap was a genius show. Such great characters including Benson. But most of all it was my first time seeing a gay character on a show, Jodie Dallas. Not only that but he was actually one of the few sane characters on the show (along with Benson). Plus I had a slight crush on his brother Danny.

    • Spongebob CrankyPants

      Everybody had a crush on Danny.

  • leastyebejudged

    When I was a child SOAP was about the only show where a gay character was portrayed as a real person with real problems.

    It was a big deal that Benson was in on it and was kind.

  • Friday

    I really loved “Benson” as a child. Thanks, Mr. Guillaume.

  • Garrett Sparks

    I saw him in Phantom when I was in, I think, 8th grade on a class trip. We got to meet some of the cast afterward, but unfortunately, Robert had to leave. But, still a memorable experience. RIP Benson.

  • Spongebob CrankyPants

    RIP Benson!!

  • Christopher

    One of my absolute favourite scenes.

    Still love this movie…

    R.I.P. Robert Guillaume

  • I don’t recall the song and I was dancing all through 1979 but that was in Iowa so maybe that explains it. I like the song. You can dance to it and it has a good beat.