Robert Guillaume

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Robert Guillaume
Robert Guillaume (1980).jpg
Guillaume in 1980
Born Robert Peter Williams
(1927-11-30) November 30, 1927 (age 89)
St. Louis, Missouri, U.S.
Occupation Actor
Years active 1959–present
Spouse(s) Marlene Williams
(m. 1955; div. 1984)

Donna Brown-Guillaume
(m. 1986)
Children 4

Robert Guillaume (born Robert Peter Williams; November 30, 1927)[1] is an American stage and television actor, known for his role as Benson on the TV-series Soap and the spin-off Benson,[2] voicing the mandrill Rafiki in The Lion King[3] and as Isaac Jaffe on Sports Night. In a career that has spanned more than 50 years he has worked extensively on stage (including a Tony Award nomination), television (including winning two Emmy Awards), and film.

Early life[edit]

Guillaume was born in St. Louis, Missouri. He studied at St. Louis University and Washington University and served in the United States Army before pursuing an acting career.

Personal life[edit]

Guillaume was married twice; first to Marlene Williams from 1955 to 1984, the couple had two sons together.[4] He married secondly to Donna Brown in 1986; the couple had a daughter.[5][6] His son Jacques died on December 23, 1990 at the age of 33 due to a long battle of AIDS.[6]



After leaving the university, Guillaume joined the Karamu Players in Cleveland and performed in musical comedies and opera. He toured the world in 1959 as a cast member of the Broadway musical Free and Easy. He made his Broadway debut in Kwamina in 1961. Other stage appearances included Golden Boy, Tambourines to Glory, Guys and Dolls, for which he received a Tony Award nomination,[7] Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris, the Los Angeles production of The Phantom of the Opera (succeeding Michael Crawford in the lead role), and Purlie!. Added roles were in Katherine Dunham's Bambouche and in Fly The Blackbird. In 1964 he portrayed Sportin' Life in a revival of Porgy and Bess at New York's City Center. Guillaume has been a member of the Robert de Cormier Singers, performing in concerts and on television. He has soloed on The Tonight Show. He recorded a LP record, Columbia CS9033, titled Just Arrived as a member of The Pilgrims, a folk trio, with Angeline Butler and Millard Williams. In the sixties he was in Vienna, Austria, Europe at the Vienna Volksoper. Marcel Prawy engaged Robert Guillaume for the role of Sporting Life in Porgy and Bess.


As Benson in Soap, 1977.

Guillaume made several guest appearances on sitcoms, including Good Times, The Jeffersons, Sanford and Son, Saved By The Bell: The College Years and in the 1990s sitcoms The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and A Different World. His series-regular debut began on the ABC series Soap, playing Benson, a butler, from 1977 to 1979. Guillaume continued the role in a spin-off series, Benson, from 1979 until 1986. Guillaume also played Dr. Franklin in Season 6 episode #8 titled "Chain Letter" in the series All in the Family, which he coyly referenced Marcus Welby, M.D.; a television series he guest appeared on in 1970.[8]

In 1985, Guillaume appeared in the television mini-series North and South as Fredrick Douglass, who had escaped from slavery and became a leader of the abolitionist movement, prior to the American Civil War.

He also appeared as marriage counselor Edward Sawyer on The Robert Guillaume Show (1989), Detective Bob Ballard on Pacific Station (1991–1992), and television executive Isaac Jaffe on Aaron Sorkin's short-lived but critically acclaimed Sports Night (1998–2000). Guillaume suffered a mild stroke on January 14, 1999, while filming an episode of the latter series.[2] He recovered and his character was later also depicted as having had a stroke. He also made a guest appearance on 8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter.


His voice has also been used for characters in television series Captain Planet and the Planeteers, Fish Police, and Happily Ever After: Fairy Tales for Every Child and for the voice of Rafiki in the movie The Lion King and its sequels and spin-offs. He also voiced Amedee Carillon in The Real Story of Sur Le Pont D'Avignon. He voiced Mr. Thicknose in The Land Before Time VIII: The Big Freeze. He also supplied the voice for Eli Vance in the 2004 video game Half-Life 2 and its subsequent sequels.


Guillaume has a star on the St. Louis Walk of Fame.[9] On November 28, 1984, Guillaume received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for his work in the television industry.[10][11]

Awards and nominations[edit]

Year Association Award category Result
1979 Soap (TV series) Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series Won[12]
1985 Benson (TV series) Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series Won[13]
1995 "The Lion King" Read-a-long Book Grammy Award for Best Spoken Word Album for Children Won[14]


  1. ^ "The almanac". United Press International. 2008-11-30. Retrieved 2011-08-27. 
  2. ^ a b Richard Huff (1999-01-21). "Stroke Sidelines Guillaume". New York Daily News. Retrieved 2011-08-27. 
  3. ^ Jeremy Gerard (1994-06-12). "The Lion King". Variety. Retrieved 2011-08-27. 
  4. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^ a b
  7. ^ Ellen Hawkes (1992-05-24). "The Anger Sustained Me". Toledo Blade. Retrieved 2011-08-27. 
  8. ^ Guillaume, Robert (October 20, 1975). "Emmy TV Legends Interviews". Emmy TV Legends. Retrieved August 2, 2017. Boy, that Marcus Welby must make fifteen millions house calls a week 
  9. ^ St. Louis Walk of Fame. "St. Louis Walk of Fame Inductees". Retrieved 25 April 2013. 
  10. ^ "Robert Guillaume | Hollywood Walk of Fame". Retrieved 2016-10-04. 
  11. ^ "Robert Guillaume - Hollywood Star Walk - Los Angeles Times". Retrieved 2016-10-04. 
  12. ^ "Outstanding Supporting Actor In A Comedy Or Comedy-Variety Or Music Series 1979". Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 2011-08-27. 
  13. ^ "Outstanding Lead Actor In A Comedy Series 1985". Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 2011-08-27. 
  14. ^ "Biography". Retrieved 2012-09-07. 

External links[edit]