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Benson actor Robert Guillaume dies aged 89

Emmy Award-winning actor Robert Guillaume, known for his role as an acerbic 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.

Much loved: Actor Robert Guillaume died aged 89 on Tuesday after a battle with prostate cancer

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. 

The actor was known for playing an acerbic butler on TV series Soap and spin-off Benson (pictured in 1979)

The actor was known for playing an acerbic butler on TV series Soap and spin-off Benson (pictured in 1979)

‘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. 

The series made Guillaume wealthy and famous, but he regretted that Benson’s wit had to be toned down to make him more appealing as the lead star.

He was born Robert Williams in St. Louis on Nov. 30, 1927, and raised by his maternal grandmother. Following high school, he served in the U.S. Army, then attended St. Louis University. 

Guillaume was born Robert Williams in St. Louis on Nov. 30, 1927, and raised by his maternal grandmother

Guillaume was born Robert Williams in St. Louis on Nov. 30, 1927, and raised by his maternal grandmother

He majored in business administration but all the while fantasized about singing with the Metropolitan Opera in New York. 

In 1999 the actor suffered a stroke while on set for TV series Sports Night as Isaac Jaffee, executive producer of a sports highlight show

Returning to his dressing room after a meal away from the studio, he suddenly collapsed. 

‘I fell on the floor, and I couldn’t get up,’ he told an interviewer in 2001. ‘I kept floundering about on the floor and I didn’t know why I couldn’t do it. I didn’t know it was it was caused by my left side being weaker than the other.’

Fortunately, St. Joseph Hospital was directly across from the studio. The 71-year-old actor was taken there and treated for a stroke- the result of a blood clot that blocked circulation of blood to the brain. They are fatal in 15 percent of the cases. 

Guillaume’s stroke was minor, causing relatively slight damage and little effect on his speech. 

After six weeks in the hospital, he underwent a therapy of walks and sessions in the gym. He returned to the second season of Sports Talk, and it was written into the script that Isaac Jaffee was recovering from a stroke. Because of slim ratings, the second season proved to be the last for the much-praised show. 

 

 

 

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk



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