November 30, 1927
St. Louis, Missouri
October 24, 2017 (age 89)
Robert Guillaume (November 30, 1927 - October 24, 2017) was an Emmy Award-winning American stage and television actor who voiced Rafiki in The Lion King and its sequels. He is also remembered for portraying Benson Du Bois on the sitcom, Soap and its spin-off, Benson.
Guillaume was born as Robert Peter Williams in St. Louis, Missouri, but would change his last name to Guillaume, the French word of William. During his childhood, Guiillaume aspired to become the first African-American to sing tenor at the Metropolitan Opera, but he put those ambitions aside to serve in the United States Navy. After his discharge, he attended St. Louis University as a business administration major, and Washington University to major in singing. and attend Washington University to major in business administration. Upon leaving, Leslie Chabay of Washington University arranged a scholarship for him at the Aspen Music Festival, which led to an apprenticeship at Cleveland's Karmu Theater. There, he made his professional debut in both operas and musical comedy.
Moving to New York, Guillaume made his stage debut in Finian's Rainbow, and performed in various stage performances. He went on achieve greater acclaim playing lead roles in Purlie and Golden Boy, and Guys and Dolls, in which Guillaume received a Tony nomination for portraying Nathan Detroit. In addition to this, Guillaume received rave reviews for his eight-month stint as the star of Phantom of the Opera..
Later, Guillaume went to make several guest appearances on sitcoms, including Good Times, The Jeffersons, and Sanford and Son, but would become a series regular on the ABC sitcom, Soap, playing butler Benson Du Bois, where he earned a Tony Award for Best Supporting Actor - Comedy Series. He would continue the role in the spinoff series, Benson, from 1979 until 1986, where Guillaume received his second Tony Award for Best Actor. Coming off the success as Benson Du Bois, Guillaume appeared in a short-lived sitcom, The Robert Guillaume Show.
After performing in Meteor Man (with James Earl Jones), Guillaume was selected to do the voice of Rafiki. During production, Rafiki was to be depicted as a "crazy hermit monk". When the story team decided Rafiki should be far more wacky than wise, Guillaume spent an entire day trying to figure out the character's voice and laugh. After the success of The Lion King, he would reprise his role in the later sequels and spin-offs.
In the late 1990s, Guillaume returned to television to portray executive producer of a national cable sports news show, Isaac Jaffe, on the ABC series, Sports Night, as well make further film, television, and video game appearances.
On October 24, 2017, Guillaume died at his Los Angeles home after suffering from prostate cancer. He is survived by his wife and three children.
- The Lion King: Film Notes.
- Robert Guillaume: biography.
- Theatrical Credits of Robert Guillaume. The Broadway League. Internet Movie Database.
- Schrager, Noah. 10 things you probably didn't know about 'The Lion King'. The Christian Science Moniter.
- Robert Guillaume, Emmy-winning for ‘Soap’ actor, dies at 89. The Washington Post (October 24, 2017). Retrieved on October 24, 2017.