The Missouri-born actor of stage and screen, perhaps most well known for his role as Rafiki in the Lion King franchise, passed away at his home on Tuesday, his wife has announced.
“He kinda went the way everyone wishes they could, surrounded by love and in his sleep,” she said.
Guillaume’s work in film includes Lean on Me, Big Fish, and Prince Jack, but his career began on Broadway. He starred in numerous musicals and plays, including Guys and Dolls, where his role as Nathan earned him a Tony nomination in 1977. He then moved to TV’s Soap, as the sarcastic butler, Benson DuBois, a role which won him the Emmy for outstanding supporting actor in a comedy series in 1979.
The popularity of the role lead the ABC network to create ‘Benson’, a series centred around Guillaume’s character that ran for seven seasons. Throughout the show, the servant began to move up the ranks, from state governor’s director of household affairs to candidate for governor.
He said of the role in 1985: “When I took a role like Benson, which was in that time-honored sense ‘another black person in a servant’s role,’ I only took the part because it was a good part, it was a part in which I thought, with my own set of ideas about things, I could say something. And indeed that has been the case. We saw Benson was in no way anyone’s inferior.”
Guillaume became the first black actor to win the Emmy for outstanding lead actor in a comedy series for Benson, after being nominated a total of six times.
He is survived by his wife, Donna, and four children.
Watch Guillaume discuss the role that won him an Emmy below: