Hollywood lost one of its most enduring actors yesterday (October 24) when Robert Guillaume died at age 89. The Los Angeles Times and other media outlets attribute his death to his ongoing struggle with prostate cancer. 

The Root notes that Guillaume racked up a number of “firsts” in his decades-long stage, film and television career. His performance in the first all-Black Broadway adaptation of “Guys and Dolls” earned him a 1977 Tony nomination for “Best Actor in a Musical.” Thirteen years later, he became the first Black actor to play the lead role in “The Phantom of the Opera.” 

Guillaume is best known for his role as Benson DuBois, the acerbic butler to powerful and dysfunctional White families, on the ABC television series “Soap” and its spin-off, “Benson.” His portrayal earned him two Emmy awards: one in 1979 for “Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series” on “Soap,” and another in 1985 for “Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series” on “Benson.” He was the only Black man to win the latter award until this year, when Donald Glover earned it for his work on “Atlanta.” Guillaume also headlined his own comedy series, “The Robert Guillaume Show,” for one season in 1989.

His film resume includes performances in “Lean on Me,” “Big Fish” and “The Lion King,” in which voiced the wise Rafiki.

Black actors and directors paid tribute to Guillaume’s work and legacy on social media: