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Robert Guillaume (born Robert Peter Williams; November 30, 1927 – October 24, 2017) was an American actor and singer, known for his role as Benson DuBois in the ABC television series Soap and its spin-off Benson, as well as for voicing the mandrill Rafiki in The Lion King and related media thereof. In a career that spanned more than 50 years he worked extensively on stage, television and film. For his efforts he was nominated for a Tony Award for his portrayal of Nathan Detroit in Guys and Dolls, and twice won an Emmy Award for his portrayal of the character Benson DuBois, once in 1979 on Soap and in 1985 on Benson.
He also won a Grammy Award in 1995 for his spoken word performance of an audiobook version of The Lion King. He was also in the 1989 movie Lean on Me as Dr. Frank Napier.
He studied at Saint Louis University and Washington University in St. Louis. He joined the United States Army in 1945, where he served until 1947.
After leaving university, Guillaume joined the Karamu Players in Cleveland and performed in musical comedies and opera. In 1964, he portrayed Sportin’ Life in a revival of Porgy and Bess at New York City Center. He adopted the surname Guillaume (French for William) as his stage name. His other stage appearances included Golden Boy (with Sammy Davis Jr.), Tambourines to Glory, Guys and Dolls, for which he received a Tony Award nomination, Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris, and Purlie! His additional roles included Katherine Dunham’s Bambouche and in Fly The Blackbird.
Guillaume was a member of the Robert de Cormier Singers, performing in concerts and on television. He recorded an LP album, Columbia CS9033, titled Just Arrived as a member of The Pilgrims, a folk trio, with Angeline Butler and Millard Williams. Columbia records producer, Tom Wilson, had set out to create the Pilgrims as an answer to the popular folk trio, Peter, Paul and Mary.
By early 1964, the Pilgrims had recorded a handful of songs and Wilson was looking for the right song for the group’s debut single when then unknown singer/songwriter named Paul Simon arrived for a meeting with Wilson and eventually pitched his new composition, « The Sound of Silence ».
Later in his stage career, he was cast in the lead role in the Los Angeles production of The Phantom of the Opera, replacing Michael Crawford.
Guillaume made several guest appearances on sitcoms, including Good Times, The Jeffersons, Sanford and Son, Saved By The Bell: The College Years and in the 1990s sitcoms The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and A Different World. Guillaume also played Dr. Franklin in season 6, episode 6 (« Chain Letter ») of the series All in the Family, in which he coyly referenced Marcus Welby, M.D., a TV series in which he had guest-starred in 1970.
His voice was employed for characters in television series Captain Planet and the Planeteers, Fish Police, and Happily Ever After: Fairy Tales for Every Child. He was known for the voice of Rafiki in the movie The Lion King and its sequels and spin-offs. He lent his deep tenor voice as Mr. Thicknose in The Land Before Time VIII: The Big Freeze. He also supplied the voice for Eli Vance in the 2004 video game Half-Life 2 and its immediate episodic sequels.
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