It has been reported that Robert Guillaume, the Emmy award-winning star of the TV sitcoms "Soap" and "Benson," has died at age 89. He passed away at home on Tuesday. According to his widow, Donna Brown Guillaume, he has been battling prostate cancer.
He was best known for his voice work in the Disney movie "The Lion King." He voiced the character Rafiki. He was also the voice of Rafiki for sequels, video games, and the Lion King television series.
Guillaume was a man of many achievements. First, he played Nathan Detroit in the first all-black version of "Guys and Dolls." This role earned him a Tony nomination in 1977. He then became African-American to sing the title role of "Phantom of the Opera."
He was eventually asked to test for the role of a butler of a governor mansion for the television show "Soap." The minute that he saw the script, he knew that he had to live one. The character became very popular. In fact, his character became so popular that ABC was persuaded to launch a spinoff called "Benson," which lasted from 1976 to 1989.
The series made Guillaume very wealthy and famous.
His early years were very poor. While growing up, he lived in a back-alley apartment without plumbing or electricity. An outhouse was shared between him and two dozen other people. His mother was an alcoholic and hated him because of his dark skin. But luckily he had his grandmother, who taught him to read and enrolled him in Catholic school.
Due to his tough upbringing, Guillaume became a rebel — something that carried over into his adult life. He was expelled from school and then from the Army. He then fathered a daughter and abandoned the child and her mother. He did the same to his first wife and two sons and to another woman and a daughter, according to reports.
He also worked in a department store, the post office, and a variety of other low-paying jobs to make ends meet. Seeking something better, however, he eventually enrolled at St. Louis University and excelled in philosophy and literature, and particularly loved Shakespeare. He then enrolled at Washington University where a music professor trained him to sing.
"Guillaume also possessed a powerful, mellifluous voice," reports Variety.
After flirting with a career as a professional singer, he then appeared on several sitcoms, including "The Jeffersons" and "Sanford and Sons." It was only then that he appeared on "Soap" and "Benson." This was his greatest period with regard to his career.
Personally, however, it was the most tragic. His son, Jacques, died of AIDS at the young age of 33.
Variety reports that the Emmy Award-winning actor was dry-witted, but ultimately very lovable.
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