The Emmy award-winning star of US sitcom Benson and voice of Rafiki in The Lion King, Robert Guillaume, has died at the age of 89.
The actor passed away at his home in Los Angeles on Tuesday after a battle with prostate cancer, his wife Donna Brown confirmed.
he had risen to prominence in the late 1970s for his role as butler Benson DuBois in popular sitcom Soap, and later in his own spin-off Benson, which ran for seven seasons from 1979 to 1986. He became the first black actor to win the Emmy for outstanding acting in a lead role in 1985.
He also became the first black actor to play the title role in Phantom of the Opera in Los Angeles in 1990.
For younger generations, he will be remembered as Rafiki, the mandrill in Disney’s 1994 animation The Lion King.
Tributes for the star have poured out on social media in the wake of the announcement:
Class, Grace & Talent Personified!! RIP Robert Guillaume
— Samuel L. Jackson (@SamuelLJackson) October 25, 2017
Robert Guillaume radiated such warmth, light, dignity, and above all, class. That smile and laugh touched us all. RIP to the best boss ever.
— Josh Charles (@MrJoshCharles) October 24, 2017
Giant of stage + screen. Also let's remember that Robert Guillaume was among the first celebs to appear at AIDS fundraisers. Thank you, sir. pic.twitter.com/Zu1klgGAV3
— Ava DuVernay (@ava) October 24, 2017
— Josh Gad (@joshgad) October 24, 2017
Another light has left us. Robert Guillaume, you were beloved across America and brought laughter always with you. https://t.co/ktUaCNaQIB
— George Takei (@GeorgeTakei) October 25, 2017
— Felicity Huffman (@FelicityHuffman) October 24, 2017
RIP to EmmyAward winning Army vet, star of stage & screen, Robert Guillaume. 1st black actor to play the title role in Phantom of the Opera pic.twitter.com/WA2aezsfQz
— jesse Williams. (@iJesseWilliams) October 24, 2017
Sad to hear of the passing of Robert Guillaume. He was a great support to me on "Soap".
Great timing, charisma and class. Rest in Peace.
— Billy Crystal (@BillyCrystal) October 24, 2017
— KevinSmith (@ThatKevinSmith) October 24, 2017