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.