Robert Guillaume, perhaps most celebrated for his role as the TV sitcom butler in Benson and Soap, died Tuesday in Los Angeles. He was 89.
Guillaume’s widow, Donna Brown Guillaume, confirmed the news to the Associated Press, noting that he had been battling prostate cancer.
Among Guillaume’s lauded career, the actor voiced the character Rafiki in Disney’s animated The Lion King, as one of his more recognizable roles. But he also made history in the theater arena: He played Nathan Detroit in the first all-black production of Guys and Dolls and became the first African-American Phantom of the Opera against a predominantly white production.
In 1999, Guillaume suffered a minor stroke in his dressing room for the Aaron Sorkin series Sports Nights. “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,” he said in a 2008 interview. “My wife, Donna, suggested to Aaron that perhaps we could incorporate the stroke into the series and he agreed … it allowed me to come back and not pretend that I had not had a stroke.”
He soon bounced back with roles across film, television, and video games; gamers might recognize him as the voice of Dr. Eli Vance in Half-Life.