Actor Robert Guillaume was born Robert P. Williams on November 30, 1927, in St. Louis, Missouri. Raised by his grandmother, Jeanette Williams, Guillaume attended St. Nicholas School where, as a promising singer, he idolized Paul Robeson, Roland Hayes, and William Warfield. Expelled by St. Joseph's High School, Guillaume joined the United States Army in 1945, where he served until 1947. Guillaume eventually returned to St. Joseph's High School, from which he graduated; from there he went on to work as a postal clerk and a streetcar driver while attending St. Louis University and Washington University, where he majored in music. In 1957, Guillaume won a nine week classical music summer scholarship to Aspen, Colorado; there he met Russell and Rowena Jelliffe who invited him to join Karamu House Theatre in Cleveland, Ohio.
At Karamu Guillaume changed his name from Williams to Guillaume (French for Williams), received his first acting lessons, and befriended Ron O'Neal, who would later cast him inSuperfly TNTin 1973. In 1959, Guillaume toured Europe with Quincy Jones, Clark Terry, and Harold Nicholas in the musicalFree and Easy. Spending most of the 1960s and 1970s in musical theatre and drama, Guillaume appeared inKwaminain 1961;Fly Blackbirdin 1962;Tambourines to Gloryin 1963;Golden Boyin 1965;Porgy and Bessfrom 1965 through 1972;Purliein 1971;Othelloin 1973; andGuys and Dollsin 1976. In 1968 Guillaume made his first television appearance on Diahann Carroll'sJulia; many programs followed, but Guillaume achieved stardom when he won an Emmy Award playing the acerbic butler, Benson, on ABC's hit sitcom,Soapin 1979. Guillaume reprised the role of Benson DuBois in his own sitcom,Benson, which ran from 1979 through 1986. Nominated five times for best actor in a comedy series, Guillaume won another Emmy in 1985, and appeared inThe Robert Guillaume Show, the first comedy about an interracial family, in 1989. In 1994, Guillaume became the voice of Rafiki, the mandrill sage in Walt Disney'sThe Lion King, and its sequels. That same year, Guillaume played Gleason Golightly in Derrick Bell'sSpace Traders.
Producer and director ofJohn Grin's Christmasin 1988, Guillaume also producedThe Kid with the 2000 I.Qin 1983. After suffering a stroke in his dressing room while working on the sitcomSports Night, Guillaume made history by returning to the show; he went on to appear in more films, includingBig Fishin 2003,Tough Like Wearing Dreadlocksin 2005, andJack Satin, also in 2005.
Guillaume passed away on October 24, 2017 at age 89.From The HistoryMakers™ biography: https://www.thehistorymakers.org/biography/A2005.114