It’s another sad day in Hollywood, dear readers. Robert Guillaume, star of such productions as TV’s Benson, and the voice of Rafiki in the movie The Lion King (a role which he reprised in the game Kingdom Hearts II), has died. The news was confirmed by his wife (as told to the Associated Press) Donna Brown Guillaume, that he passed away in his home of complications from prostate cancer.
Born Robert Peter Williams, in St. Louis, MO, the young man joined the military in 1945, and served for 15 months. After taking on several menial jobs, and studying at St. Louis University, he decided to transfer to Washington University to study voice and theater, changing his name to Robert Guillaume shortly thereafter.
Guillaume was famous for portraying dry-witted, acerbic, and quite lovable characters on screen, in theater productions, and in video games. His penultimate role was arguably as the snarky Benson Du Bois in the 1977 television series Soap, which was then spun off into the hilarious series, Benson, which ran for seven seasons until its cancellation in 1986.
Late in the 1990s, Mr. Guillaume began portraying Isaac Jaffe; the executive producer of a cable sports show on Sports Night, which aired on ABC. During that time, the actor suffered a stroke, but continued to perform in the role – despite the hardship caused by his physical condition.
Not only was Guillaume an accomplished screen actor, but his voice alone also garnered a lot of attention. Using that velvety & pleasant voice, he took on the role of the titular Phantom in a production tour of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom of the Opera. As we mentioned earlier, he has also voiced several video game characters – Rafiki (Kingdom Hearts II) and Dr. Eli Vance (Half-Life 2: Episode One and Half Life 2: Episode Two) being just some examples.
Mr. Guillaume’s work has garnered him several awards. He won an Best Actor in a Comedy Emmy for Benson, and a Best Spoken Word Recording Grammy for his work in The Lion King.
Guillaume is survived by his wife (Donna Brown Guillaume), three daughters, and one son.