We’re sad to report that Robert Guillaume, who won two Emmys for his role as Benson in the TV series Soap and its spinoff Benson, has died after a battle with prostate cancer. The actor’s wife confirmed the news in a statement to the Associated Press.
The 89-year-old actor was also known for playing managing editor and chief mentor Isaac Jaffe on Aaron Sorkin’s beloved series Sports Night.
And, of course, for voicing the role of Rafiki in the 1994 animated classic, The Lion King.
During his career in theater, Guillaume was nominated for a Tony for the 1976 revival of Guys and Dolls on Broadway, and he was the first black actor to play the title role in Phantom of the Opera during a Los Angeles production.
After a series of guest spots on ’70s sitcoms like Good Times, Sanford and Sons, and The Jeffersons, Guillaume landed the role as butler Benson DuBois on Soap (1977-1979), and quickly became the breakout star before headlining the spinoff series Benson (1979-1986).
Years later, following the cancelation of Sports Night, the actor continued to make television appearances on shows like CSI and 8 Simple Rules, but focused more heavily on voiceover work. He also made appearances in films like Big Fish and Columbus Circle.
As news of his death spread, former costars and celebrity fans took to Twitter to honor the late actor:
Guillaume is predeceased by a son and is survived by his wife, producer Donna Guillaume, three daughters, and one son. Our thoughts go out to them during this difficult time.