NEW YORK (AP) – Robert Guillaume, who won Emmy Awards for his roles on “Soap” and “Benson,” has died at age 89.
Guillaume’s widow Donna Brown Guillaume says the actor and singer died Tuesday morning in Los Angeles. She tells The Associated Press he had been battling prostate cancer. In addition to his television work, Robert Guillaume was the first African-American to sing the title role of “Phantom of the Opera,” appearing with an all-white cast in Los Angeles.
Guillaume rose to stardom after being born into squalid conditions in the slums of St. Louis in November 1927. He was inducted into the St. Louis Walk of Fame in 1999.
He was nominated for a Tony Award in 1977 for his role in the first all-black version of “Guys and Dolls.”
“Robert was a lovely man who we brought in for one interpretation of Rafiki and who then completely reinvented it working in the studio. His passion and dedication and willingness to keep working created an indelible Disney character for the ages,” Thomas Schumacher, president and producer of Disney Theatrical Productions, said in a statement.
Guillaume won a Grammy in 1995 when a read-aloud version of “The Lion King,” which he narrated, was cited for best spoken word album for children. He also served as narrator for the animated HBO series “Happily Ever After: Fairy Tales for Every Child,” which aired form 1995-2000.
“Giant of stage screen,” tweeted filmmaker Ava DuVernay. “Also let’s remember that Robert Guillaume was among the first celebs to appear at AIDS fundraisers. Thank you, sir.” Actor Josh Charles tweeted “Robert Guillaume radiated such warmth, light, dignity, and above all, class. That smile and laugh touched us all.”
Photo Credit: ABC via Getty Images; AP/Reed Saxton, file
Reported by: Lacey Dash; Edited by: Amy Wesley