Emmy Award-winning actor Robert Guillaume, known for his role as dry-witted butler Benson Du Bois on the TV series Soap, has died. Guillaume passed away at home Tuesday in Los Angeles, according to his widow, Donna Brown Guillaume. He had been battling prostate cancer, she told The Associated Press.
Among Guillaume’s achievements was playing Nathan Detroit in the first all-black version of Guys and Dolls, earning a Tony nomination in 1977. 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. He also appeared in movies, including Meteor Man, First Kid, and Spy Hard. He also won a Grammy for spoken word recording for The Lion King.
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. ‘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.’ The character became so popular that ABC was persuaded to launch a spinoff, simply called Benson, which lasted from 1979 to 1986. His work on Soap show won Guillaume won the Emmy for outstanding supporting actor in a comedy series in 1979.
Sad to hear of the passing of Robert Guillaume. He was a great support to me on “Soap”.
Great timing, charisma and class. Rest in Peace.
— Billy Crystal (@BillyCrystal) October 24, 2017
Wonderful actor!! More prolific than most know. Great man. Honored to have met him. RIP! https://t.co/zTlPCVwcsi
— Viola Davis (@violadavis) October 24, 2017
Giant of stage + screen. Also let’s remember that Robert Guillaume was among the first celebs to appear at AIDS fundraisers. Thank you, sir. pic.twitter.com/Zu1klgGAV3
— Ava DuVernay (@ava) October 24, 2017
So sad Robert Guillaume has passed I was so fortunate to direct this kind soul In DEATH WARRANT with Van Damme R.I.P. 😞 pic.twitter.com/ky5GWyeWE3
— Deran Sarafian (@DeranSarafian) October 24, 2017
The stroke he suffered during Sports Night was written into the show. This was his return.
RIP Robert Guillaume pic.twitter.com/eURutArNo8
— Kevin T. Porter (@KevinTPorter) October 24, 2017
RIP to EmmyAward winning Army vet, star of stage & screen, Robert Guillaume. 1st black actor to play the title role in Phantom of the Opera pic.twitter.com/WA2aezsfQz
— jesse Williams. (@iJesseWilliams) October 24, 2017