Robert Guillaume, who twice won the Emmy for his long-running role as sassy butler Benson DuBois on Benson (1979-1986), a role he originated on Soap (1977-1980), has died. He was 89.
Guillaume's wife, Donna Brown Guillaume, told the AP he had been diagnosed with prostate cancer.
James Noble, one of Guillaume's Benson co-stars, died at 94 in 2016.
Along with Benson, Guillaume is also well-remembered as the voice of Rafiki in The Lion King (1994), a part he recreated for video games (1994-2012), a sequel (1998) and a TV series (1995-1999); and for his role as Isaac Jaffe on Sports Night (1998-2000), on the set of which he suffered a mild stroke in 1999.
Guillaume made his U.S. TV debut on a 1969 episode of Julia (1968-1971), the groundbreaking series about a black professional woman (Diahann Carroll, b. 1935) raising her child on her own in an upper middle-class environment.
He went on to appear all over quality episodic TV, particularly on series with large black casts or in roles that explored race, including stints on Sanford and Son (1975), All in the Family (1975), The Jeffersons (1975), Good Times (1977), Hotel (1986), A Different World (1991-1992) and The Fresh Prnce of Bel-Air (1994).
He appeared in a trio of popular TV movies opposite Gary Coleman (1968-2010): The Kid from Left Field (1979), The Kid with the Broken Halo (1982) and The Kid with the 200 I.Q. (1983). He anchored his own, short-lived series entitled The Robert Guillaume Show in 1989.
Guillaume tackled a number of heavier roles on TV and in film, including playing Martin Luther King Jr. (1929-1968) in the feature film Prince Jack (1984), Frederick Douglass (1818-1895) on the miniseries North and South (1985) and Hoke Colburn in a TV-movie adaptation of Driving Miss Daisy (1992).
His feature appearances were few and far between, but usually reserved for prestigious fare, either big, mainstream hits or critically acclaimed dramas: Seems Like Old Times (1980), Lean on Me (1989), Spy Hard (1996) and Big Fish (2003).
Along with a Tony nomination for his performance in the 1976 Guys and Dolls revival, he became the first black actor to star in The Phantom of the Opera, in 1990. Among his many theatrical roles, he appeared on Broadway in Finian's Rainbow (1960), Kwamina (1961), Tambourines to Glory (1963) and a 1972 revival of Purlie. He appeared in a number of off-Broadway productions as well.
In his final years, Guillaume appeared on Wanda Sykes Presents Herlarious (2013) and in the short film Off the Beach (2013), his final performances.
In 2016, he sat for an episode of Where Are They Now?, saying:
When I look back on my life, I realize that I knew nothing, but I had an ego. It was really out of control ... and probably still is, to some extent. The stroke, it taught me humility ... You never know when something is coming down the pike to get you, but I began to look at it in the way that I've always looked at things: This, too, can be overcome.
Guillaume is survived by his wife, three daughters, one son, four grandkids, five great-grandkids and one great-great-grandkid.