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Robert Guillaume

Robert Guillaume

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Also Known As: Robert Williams, Robert Peter Williams Died:
Born: November 30, 1927 Cause of Death:
Birth Place: St Louis, Missouri, USA Profession: actor, singer, producer

Biography CLOSE THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Robert Guillaume became one of the best-beloved and respected television actors of the late 1970s and 1980s playing one character in two different series and establishing a trademark capacity to render bone-dry wit, stoic demeanor and even thoughtful compassion. An accomplished Broadway performer and singer through the 1960s and '70s, Guillaume came to national prominence on the groundbreaking and controversial sitcom "Soap" (ABC, 1977-1981) as Benson, the domestic servant with anything but a servile attitude or respect for his upper class employers. Benson proved such a breakthrough character that in 1979, ABC spun Guillaume off into his own eponymous series, in which he eventually, improbably, ran for the office of governor of a Southern state. Nominated seven times, he would become the first African-American to win a Best Actor Emmy. He went on to establish himself as a go-to voiceover actor with extensive work in Disney's much-traveled "Lion King" franchise. His most extended return to series TV, "Sports Night" (ABC, 1998-2000), went conspicuously marked by a stroke he suffered on-set and the producers' and Guillaume's decision to write it and the subsequent recovery process into his character's...

Robert Guillaume became one of the best-beloved and respected television actors of the late 1970s and 1980s playing one character in two different series and establishing a trademark capacity to render bone-dry wit, stoic demeanor and even thoughtful compassion. An accomplished Broadway performer and singer through the 1960s and '70s, Guillaume came to national prominence on the groundbreaking and controversial sitcom "Soap" (ABC, 1977-1981) as Benson, the domestic servant with anything but a servile attitude or respect for his upper class employers. Benson proved such a breakthrough character that in 1979, ABC spun Guillaume off into his own eponymous series, in which he eventually, improbably, ran for the office of governor of a Southern state. Nominated seven times, he would become the first African-American to win a Best Actor Emmy. He went on to establish himself as a go-to voiceover actor with extensive work in Disney's much-traveled "Lion King" franchise. His most extended return to series TV, "Sports Night" (ABC, 1998-2000), went conspicuously marked by a stroke he suffered on-set and the producers' and Guillaume's decision to write it and the subsequent recovery process into his character's arc. Though more broadly remembered for his signature sitcom work, Guillaume built a legacy as a multi-gifted performer who defied the traditional parameters too long drawn for African-American thespians.

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Filmographyclose complete filmography

DIRECTOR:

1.
  John Grin's Christmas (1986) Director

CAST: (feature film)

1.
 Columbus Circle (2012)
2.
 Satin (2010)
4.
 Lion King 1 1/2, The (2004) Voice Of Rafiki
5.
 Big Fish (2003) Dr Bennett (Senior)
7.
 Lion King II: Simba's Pride, The (1998) Voice Of Rafiki
8.
 His Bodyguard (1998) Garrett
9.
 Spy Hard (1996) Agent Steve Bishop
10.
 First Kid (1996) Wilkes
VIEW THE FULL FILMOGRAPHY

Milestones close milestones

:
Raised by his maternal grandmother in St Louis, MO
:
Served in the U.S. Army
:
While in college, won a scholarship to a musical festival in Aspen, CO
:
Stage debut as Billy Bigelow in regional production of "Carousel"
1964:
Off-Broadway debut, "Fly Blackbird" (date approximate)
1973:
Feature film debut, "Superfly TNT"
:
Appeared in Broadway musicals "Porgy and Bess," "Kwamina," "Purlie" and as Nathan Detroit in black revival of "Guys and Dolls"; earned 1977 Tony nomination as Lead Actor in a Musical for the latter
1977:
Played Benson on the ABC sitcom "Soap"
1979:
Starred as title character in TV series, "Benson", a spin-off of "Soap"
1979:
Co-starred with Gary Coleman in the TV-movies "The Kid from Left Field" (1979), "The Kid with the Broken Halo" (1982) and "The Kid with the 200 I.Q." (1983;) also executive produced the latter
1983:
Played title character in TV adaptation of Broadway musical "Purlie"
:
Formed Guillaume/Margo Productions
1986:
Made his directorial debut in the ABC TV-movie "John Grin's Christmas"; also produced and starred in
1989:
Starred in ABC sitcom "The Robert Guillaume Show"; also executive produced
1989:
Co-starred in the feature "Lean on Me"
1990:
Replaced Michael Crawford as "The Phantom of the Opera" in Los Angeles production of the hit musical; first black actor to play the role
1994:
Voiced the character of Rafiki in the animated Disney blockbuster "The Lion King"
1995:
Reprised Rafiki on the animated TV spin-off "Timon & Pumbaa" (CBS)
1996:
Had roles in "First Kid" and "Spy Hard"
1997:
Made pilot for "Metropolitan Hospital" (Fox)
1998:
Co-starred in the ABC series "Sports Night"
2003:
Acted in Tim Burton's fantasy drama "Big Fish"
2004:
Featured in the documentary "TV in Black: The First Fifty Years"
2010:
Cast in a supporting role opposite Amy Smart and Selma Blair in the thriller "Columbus Circle"
2011:
Co-starred in the Las Vegas-set feature "Satin"
VIEW ALL MILESTONES

Education

St Louis University: St Louis , Missouri -
Washington University: St Louis , Missouri -
Karamu Theatre: Cleveland , Ohio -

Notes

In 1990, Guillaume replaced Michael Crawford in the title role of "The Phantom of the Opera" in Los Angeles, becoming the first African American performer in the role.

"I don't think I've had that much of a variety, that oppportunity to play a wide range of people. If you're black and you try to play a character that has not been seen, a philosophy professor, say, or has been on the horizon in film, theater and television, you always run up against people who don't understand. People who have a much more limited idea of what African-Americans are. We occupy a wide, wide spectrum of the territory we call the American dream. In the media it's a tiny little area." --Robert Guillaume in Daily News, September 11, 1991.

"If I had to identify what made me successful, I'd say it was a firmly grounded early education which made me unafraid of the English language. The ability to articulate effectively what I wanted to say and felt has served me more than anything else in this business." --Guillaume quoted in "Death Warrant" publicity material

Companions close complete companion listing

companion:
Fay Hauser. Actor. Linked romantically in the early 1980s.
wife:
Donna Guillaume. Producer. Married in 1985.

Family close complete family listing

son:
Jacques Williams. Singer. Born c. 1957; son by first wife; died on December 23, 1990 of complications from AIDS.
daughter:
Rachel Jeannette Williams. Born c. 1989.

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