Robert Guillaume, star of television shows like Soap, Benson and Sports Night and movies such The Lion King, has passed away at 89 years old after a battle with prostate cancer. Guillaume spent nearly 60 years in show business, starting out on Broadway in shows like Guys and Dolls for which he was nominated for a Tony. After appearing on shows like Sanford and Son, Good Times and The Jeffersons, Guillaume co-starred in the soap opera parody Soap where he first played his wisecracking butler character Benson, who later broke out in his own spinoff. He earned Emmys for both shows.
Guillaume’s voice became known to children everywhere when, in 1994, he appeared as Rafiki in Disney’s The Lion King, earning a Grammy for a spoken-word recording based on the film.
In 1998, he was cast in Aaron Sorkin’s critically acclaimed Sports Night, where he portrayed Isaac Jaffe, managing editor of a television sports program alongside Felicity Huffman, Peter Krause and Josh Charles. In 1999, he suffered a stroke, which was written into the show, an idea that originated with Guillaume’s wife:
“I was fortunate in the sense that the stroke I suffered was not so debilitating that I could not move around with some degree of regularity. And when my wife Donna suggested to Aaron that perhaps we could incorporate the stroke into the series and he agreed and that’s what we did and it was fortunate for me because it allowed me to come back and not pretend that I had not had a stroke and was very good for me.”