Emmy Award–winning actor Robert Guillaume, best known for playing the butler Benson DuBois in Soap and Benson and voicing Rafiki in The Lion King, died Tuesday in Los Angeles. He was 89.
Guillaume's wife, Donna Brown Guillaume, told The Associated Press her husband had been battling prostate cancer. Guillaume won two Emmys for his portrayal of the acerbic butler Benson, and a Grammy in 1995 for narrating a version of The Lion King. He received a Tony nomination in 1977 for his performance as Nathan Detroit in an all-black production of Guys and Dolls, and starred in a Los Angeles production of Phantom of the Opera, the first black man to play the role. While starring in Sports Night in 1999, Guillaume had a minor stroke, which was written into the show.
Guillaume had a tough early life, writing in his 2002 autobiography, Guillaume: A Life, that his mother was a prostitute, they lived in the poorest slums of St. Louis, and he never knew his father. Before becoming an actor, he worked at a department store, a post office, and as the first black streetcar motorman in St. Louis.