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Robert Guillaume, Veteran of TV's Benson and Sports Night, Dies at 89

Guillaume played Nathan Detroit and the Phantom of the Opera in two of his many stage appearances. logo
Robert Guillaume has died at 89.
(© Alan Light/Wikimedia Commons)

Emmy-winning stage and screen veteran Robert Guillaume has died of complications of prostate cancer. Guillaume's death was confirmed to the Associated Press by his wife, Donna Brown Guillaume. He was 89.

Best known for his longtime television turn as Benson Du Bois on the 1977 series Soap and its 1979 spinoff Benson, Guillaume won Emmys for his performance in the role on both shows. He made history as the first African-American actor to play the title role in Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera, replacing Michael Crawford in the 1990 Los Angeles production of the musical.

Born Robert Peter Williams in St. Louis, he studied voice and theater at Washington University. He later earned an apprenticeship at the Karamu Performing Arts Theater and made his Broadway debut in the 1960 Broadway revival of Finian's Rainbow. He went on to appear in several other Broadway shows, including Kwamina, Tambourines to Glory, Purlie, in which he played the title role, Guys and Dolls, for which he earned a Tony nomination as Nathan Detroit, and Cyrano — The Musical.

Guillaume's many credits also include guest appearances on All in the Family, Good Times, Sanford and Son, The Jeffersons, 8 Simple Rules, and CSI. He starred in the Aaron Sorkin sitcom Sports Night alongside Peter Krause, Josh Charles, and Felicity Huffman. On the big screen, Guillaume voiced Rafiki in The Lion King and won a spoken word Grammy for playing the role on record.

He is survived by his second wife, Donna Brown Guillaume, as well as a son and three daughters.


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