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Robert Guillaume, 89, TV sircom actor (Soap; Benson; Sports Night)
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That Derek
2017-10-24 20:16:08 UTC
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http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/robert-guillaume-dead-benson-actor-920459

Robert Guillaume, 'Benson' Emmy Winner, Dies at 89

12:55 PM PDT 10/24/2017
by Duane Byrge , Mike Barnes

He also portrayed Isaac Jaffe on 'Sports Night,' voiced Rafiki in 'The Lion King' and earned a Tony nomination for 'Guys and Dolls.'

Robert Guillaume, the urbane actor who received two Emmy Awards for portraying the acidic butler Benson on a pair of ABC sitcoms, died Tuesday. He was 89.

Guillaume, a baritone who also starred on the stage and voiced the wise mandrill Rafiki in The Lion King (1994) and its related sequels, video games and TV series, died at his home in Los Angeles, his wife, Donna Brown Guillaume, told the Associated Press. He had been battling prostate cancer.

Guillaume's penchant for playing distinguished characters resolutely defied racial stereotypes — as he did on ABC's critically acclaimed Aaron Sorkin series Sports Night, on which he played Isaac Jaffe, the managing editor of a ESPN-style news program.

In 1999, Guillaume had a mild stroke while in his dressing room on the Sports Night set.

"I was fortunate in the sense that the stroke I suffered was not so debilitating that I could not move around with some degree of regularity," he said in a 2008 interview. "My wife Donna suggested to Aaron that perhaps we could incorporate the stroke into the series and he agreed … it allowed me to come back and not pretend that I had not had a stroke."

His polished portrayal of the imperious family retainer Benson DuBois endured for nine years, first in three seasons on Soap (1977-80) and then on the spinoff Benson, which ran until April 1986. Both shows were created by Susan Harris.

Benson's personal arc went from butler/cook to state budget director and finally to lieutenant governor. He even ran for governor against his former boss, Eugene X. Gatling (John Noble), but that race — a season-ending cliff-hanger — went undecided because the show went off the air.

"When I got the role of Benson, I was not the happiest camper," Guillaume said on an installment of Oprah: Where Are They Now? that aired in January 2016. "I had reservations, because you're serving food, you're serving the family and all that sort of thing. … It's like nothing has changed since the 1800s.

"But the more I examined the role and read the script, I figured out a way to take some of the stench off the idea."

Guillaume's Emmy for outstanding actor in a comedy in 1985 made him the only black man to win in that category. He also received the supporting comedy actor trophy in 1979, earning six noms in all for playing Benson.

Guillaume also collected a Tony nomination for best actor in a musical in 1977 for playing Nathan Detroit in a revival of Guys and Dolls (Frank Sinatra did the part in the 1955 film), and he replaced the original Phantom Michael Crawford in an L.A. production of The Phantom of the Opera, receiving plaudits from audiences and critics alike.

He was born Robert Williams in St. Louis on Nov. 30, 1927, and raised by his maternal grandmother. Following high school, he served in the U.S. Army, then attended St. Louis University. He majored in business administration but all the while fantasized about singing with the Metropolitan Opera in New York.

Guillaume persevered with his dream and won a scholarship to the Aspen Music Festival. He parlayed that opportunity into an apprenticeship at Cleveland’s Karamu Theater, where he appeared in operas and musical comedy.

He moved to New York and went on to perform in a number of musicals and big productions on Broadway, starting with Finian's Rainbow in 1960 and then with Kwamina, Tambourines to Glory and Purlie.

Guillaume also appeared in the films Seems Like Old Times (1980), Lean on Me (1989), Death Warrant (1990), The Meteor Man (1993), First Kid (1996), Spy Hard (1996) and Big Fish (2003). And he wrote, directed and starred in the 1986 ABC telefilm John Grin’s Christmas.

Guillaume also starred as a divorced marriage counselor on the 1989 ABC series The Robert Guillaume Show; served as the narrator of the HBO animated series Happily Ever After; and guest-starred on Julia, Marcus Welby, M.D., All in the Family, The Jeffersons, Good Times, The Love Boat, L.A. Law, Diagnosis Murder, Touched by an Angel and 8 Simple Rules … for Dating My Teenage Daughter.

In 1992, Guillaume partnered in The Confetti Co., which published read-along books and audiocassettes (he was the narrator) of traditional fairy tales written with a multiethnic approach. Two years later, he received a Grammy Award for his Rafiki vocals on a spoken-word album for kids.
e***@gmail.com
2017-10-24 20:46:04 UTC
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Only black man to win Emmy for Best Actor in a Comedy? I thought Cosby won there, too -- maybe not
c***@aol.com
2017-10-24 21:04:12 UTC
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Cosby chose not to submit his name for Emmy consideration throughout the entire run of The Cosby Show.
t***@iwvisp.com
2017-10-24 22:19:48 UTC
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IIRC, Cosby won three years in a row for I Spy but that was in the drama category.

Ray Arthur
Michael OConnor
2017-10-25 00:20:49 UTC
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I loved the Benson character on Soap, who was truly misanthropic, but when they spun him off onto his own sitcom they softened his character considerably and made him somewhat grumpy.
Bryan Styble
2017-10-25 04:48:56 UTC
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Michael O'Connor opined to one and all on a shift in the writing for the Benson character:

I loved the Benson character on "Soap", who was truly misanthropic, but when they spun him off onto his own sitcom they softened his character considerably and made him somewhat grumpy.
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I virtually never watched either ABC sitcom, so I wasn't aware of that unfortunate evolution of the late Guillaume's character, but I certainly am familiar with that terribly unfortunate sitcom syndrome.

Most spectacularly, it was on display when Archie Bunker was, as you say Michael, softened up after the first "All in the Family" season*, so that for the second, not only were the optics a bit different--most notably with daughter Gloria's blonde curls now straightened for the remainder of Sally Struthers's run**--but the at-first always-edgy Bunker character morphed into the more "lovable bigot" that we'd see for the ensuing seasons.

Of course, by the time they transitioned--too bad "jennered", unlike "borked", isn't a verb yet--into the consistently-disappointing "Archie Buncker's Place" series, it was all but impossible for viewers to discern that the protagonist was once, at least for much of that first season and then somewhat into the second, a fellow often on the verge--if never*** actually realized--of employing a certain well-known racial epithet once favored by, among others (including darned near every faux-angry, melody-bereft rapper), the late Robert Byrd.

BRYAN STYBLE/Florida
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* Which was actually a HALF-season; AITF debuted, like "Batman" did in 1966, shortly after New Year's in 1971, rather than back in September, as network series typically premiered in those days.
** Struthers happened to come into the Greenblatt's Deli on The Strip one Tuesday night in 1988 when I was grabbing a bite between sets while MCing open-mike night next door at The Laugh Factory. Interrupting my usual roast-beef-with-Russian sandwich (and probably with dressing-smeared lips), I seized the opportunity to chat with the star, describing my preference for that first half-season's writing for the reasons stated above, while pointing out that the way astute viwers can easily identify those particular usually superior episodes is with her hairdo...a fact that made Struthers's face simply light up, I'm gratified to report, insisting she had never noted that before.
*** Except once, you may recall: in that drunken-Archie-locked-in-his-basement reminiscence scene.
c***@aol.com
2017-10-25 11:22:25 UTC
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Virtually?
Bryan Styble
2017-10-25 11:39:24 UTC
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Yeah, virtually was a word I should have edited out.

I was trying to reflect the fact that I didn't merely seldom watch "Benson", but instead maybe saw a total of 10 minutes of a single episode. Similarly, with "Soap", I didn't merely once in a while view it, but saw instead 10 or 15 minutes of a couple episodes I'd estimate--again, not much at all for a long-running hit like that.

So yep, I shoulda typed "almost never"...and I wish I had had you as an editor at a couple of the newspapers wrote for over the years.

BRYAN STYBLE/Florida
Michael OConnor
2017-10-25 12:15:56 UTC
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Post by Bryan Styble
Yeah, virtually was a word I should have edited out.
I was trying to reflect the fact that I didn't merely seldom watch "Benson", but instead maybe saw a total of 10 minutes of a single episode. Similarly, with "Soap", I didn't merely once in a while view it, but saw instead 10 or 15 minutes of a couple episodes I'd estimate--again, not much at all for a long-running hit like that.
So yep, I shoulda typed "almost never"...and I wish I had had you as an editor at a couple of the newspapers wrote for over the years.
Soap was very controversial when it came out in 1977, I think some ABC affiliates did not run it at first, but it was a funny show for the first couple seasons. It was responsible for making Billy Crystal's gay character TV's first openly gay character on a TV series. Another character had a puppet that he talked with. My personal favorite episode was when Richard Mulligan thought he could make himself invisible. The show quickly started to go downhill once Robert Guillaume left after the second season to do his own series.

I bought the series on DVD a few years back and re-watched them, I think they have aged pretty well and the show is still funny. If you can catch the first two seasons on Netflix I would definitely recommend you binge watch them sometime, but stop there, as the last two seasons were disappointing and the show ended with a cliffhanger that was never resolved.
A Friend
2017-10-25 12:47:36 UTC
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Post by Michael OConnor
I bought the series on DVD a few years back and re-watched them, I think they
have aged pretty well and the show is still funny. If you can catch the
first two seasons on Netflix I would definitely recommend you binge watch
them sometime, but stop there, as the last two seasons were disappointing and
the show ended with a cliffhanger that was never resolved.
It was resolved, eventually. SOAP's run ended with Jessica Tate about
to be executed by a firing squad. Two years later, Jessica's ghost
turned up on an episode of BENSON. Jessica told Benson that she'd been
executed, and that she needed to do a good deed to get into heaven.
c***@aol.com
2017-10-25 12:52:02 UTC
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Soap, like a lot of groundbreaking shows,was initially very funny but as it went on it’s like they ran out of ideas and they veered into the realm of ridiculousness which wasn’t very funny.
Diner
2017-10-25 12:58:07 UTC
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Post by That Derek
http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/robert-guillaume-dead-benson-actor-920459
Robert Guillaume, 'Benson' Emmy Winner, Dies at 89
Guillaume also collected a Tony nomination for best actor in a musical in 1977 for playing Nathan Detroit in a revival of Guys and Dolls (Frank Sinatra did the part in the 1955 film), and he replaced the original Phantom Michael Crawford in an L.A. production of The Phantom of the Opera, receiving plaudits from audiences and critics alike.
Someone on the All That Chat board posted that she saw Guillaume in "The Phantom of the Opera" on 12/23/1990. His son had died earlier that day, but Guillaume, ever the professional, went ahead and did the performance anyway, giving a "heartbreaking performance."
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