Emmy Award-winning actor Robert Guillaume is dead. He was 89.
Guillaume, most famous for his role as television's dry-witted butler, Benson Du Bois, died at home Oct. 24 in Los Angeles, reports the Daily Mail.
His death was confirmed by his widow, Donna Brown Guillaume. The cause was prostate cancer, she told The Associated Press, the Daily Mail reports. Robert portrayed his famous butler character first on the TV series "Soap," and then on the spinoff series, "Benson."
"Soap," a primetime TV sitcom, was so named because it satirized soap operas. The opening narration of each episode summarized what the show was about, notes TV Tropes:
This is the story of two sisters: Jessica Tate, and Mary Campbell.
Jessica lives in a neighborhood known as Rich. Jessica likes life. The only thing she would change about life, if she could, is that she would set it all to music. The Tates have more secrets than they do money.
Mary, too, likes life. Unfortunately, life doesn't seem too crazy about her. As you can see, the Campbells don't have nearly as much money as the Tates. They do, however, have as many secrets...
As the wise butler for the Tates, "Benson" saw through the shenanigans of both families, and knew their secrets.
"Soap" also made a star of actor Billy Crystal, whose character "Jodie Dallas" was the first openly gay character on television. Crystal played the groundbreaking role without any trace of homosexual stereotyping.
As for the role of Benson, Robert recalled in 2001: "The minute I saw the script, I knew I had a live one. Every role was written against type, especially Benson, who wasn't subservient to anyone. 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."
Robert's work on "Soap" garnered him an Emmy in 1979 for outstanding supporting actor in a comedy series.
For his "Benson" series, which lasted from 1979 to 1986, he was promoted from butler of a wealthy family to the position of state governor's director of household affairs. His character's wise counsel to the governor eventually led to his appointment as state budget director, lieutenant governor and candidate for governor.
The show brought Robert his second Emmy, this time for outstanding lead actor in a comedy series. He was the first black actor to win that award.
Also an accomplished singer, he earned a Tony nomination in 1977 for his performance in the first all-black version of "Guys and Dolls," and he was the first African-American to sing the title role of "Phantom of the Opera."
His movie credits include "Meteor Man," "First Kid," and "Spy Hard." He also won a Grammy for spoken word recording for the animated film "The Lion King."
Born Robert Peter Williams in 1927, he adopted the stage name Guillaume, a French version of Williams, believing the change would give him distinction.