21 July 2018

Robert Guillaume, Emmy-Winning star of ‘Benson,’ dies

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Robert Guillaume, the gravel-voiced and urbane actor who won Emmys for playing a sarcastic butler-turned-politician on two different sitcoms, died of complications from prostate cancer on Tuesday. He was 89. reports citing NBC news that "Donna Brown Guillaume is deeply saddened by the passing of her husband," his wife said in a statement from his manager, adding that he died in their Los Angeles home.

Guillaume was best known for playing the wry, sharp-tongued Benson DuBois, first as a supporting player on the primetime soap opera parody "Soap" (1977-81) and later as the star of the ABC spin-off series "Benson" (1979-86), in which his character rose from butler to lieutenant governor.

He earned two Emmys for his work on those shows, becoming the first African-American performer to win the award for best actor in a comedy series in 1985.

In accepting that award, Guillaume quipped, "I'd like to thank Bill Cosby for not being here" — a nod to the popularity of the era's other major black sitcom star, who had taken himself out of the running that year. Cosby paid his respects in a tweet Tuesday night.

Guillaume insisted that Benson, the "household head" of a fictional governor's mansion, carry himself with dignity and self-respect, refusing to rely on cheap stereotypes about black servility.

"In all honesty and candor and modesty, I always wanted the character to have that kind of upward mobility, because it mirrored the American dream," Guillaume told The Washington Post in 1985. "It goes without saying that I've tried to conduct myself in the character in such a way that I could look back on it five or 10 years from now and not have to wince."

Billy Crystal, who rose to fame with a breakout role on "Soap," praised his late co-star as a man of "charisma and class."

René Auberjonois, who played snobby political aide Clayton Runnymede Endicott III on "Benson," remembered Guillaume as a "gentle and generous" colleague.

2017.10.25 / 09:59
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