Farewell to a TV FA­VORITE

THE BUT­LER DID IT! FROM SOAP TO SPORTS NIGHT, THE AC­TOR BEST KNOWN AS BEN­SON AL­WAYS SCORED

Closer Weekly - - In Memoriam -

Long be­fore Ray­mond, “Ev­ery­body loved Ben­son,” Soap cre­ator Su­san Har­ris tells Closer of Robert Guil­laume’s break­out char­ac­ter on the clas­sic ’70s sit­com. “Ac­tu­ally, there were some sim­i­lar­i­ties be­tween Ben­son and Bob — both were no-non­sense guys and straight shoot­ers. Bob was funny and a plea­sure to work with.”

Ben­son proved so pop­u­lar he got his own self-ti­tled 1979–’86 spinoff, in which he rose from but­ler to gover­nor, and Robert won two Em­mys for the char­ac­ter. Still, he re­mained hum­ble. “His li­cense plate was ‘WHO KNEW’ — even he was as­tounded by where he’d got­ten in life,” co-star Missy Gold (now known as Dr. Melissa Wied­mann) says of Robert, who died of prostate can­cer at 89 on Oct. 24. “He was a great teacher. He taught me how to be a good per­son and to give back.”

Robert was much more than just Ben­son. Born in St. Louis, he served in the Army and stud­ied opera be­fore launch­ing a suc­cess­ful mu­si­cal-the­ater ca­reer, earn­ing a Tony nom­i­na­tion for Guys and Dolls in 1977. That same year, Soap made him a house­hold name. “Even when he played a but­ler, he was sassy, ir­rev­er­ent and the smartest guy in the room,” his widow, Donna Brown, tells Closer. “Ben­son was a ser­vant, but he was never servile.”

Robert used his pow­er­ful voice to great ef­fect as shaman­is­tic man­drill Rafiki in The Lion King, win­ning a Best Spo­ken Word Al­bum for Chil­dren Grammy for a read-along record­ing in 1995. He also drew raves as a TV jour­nal­ist on Aaron Sorkin’s sit­com Sports Night; Robert suf­fered a stroke while do­ing the show in 1999 but later re­turned in force.

Off­screen, Robert was a true fam­ily man. He was mar­ried to Mar­lene Scott from 1955– ’84, and the cou­ple had two chil­dren (their son, Jacques, trag­i­cally died at 33 in 1990 from AIDS-re­lated com­pli­ca­tions). In 1986, Robert wed Donna, who be­came the mother of his daugh­ter Rachel. “He was funny, smart and a good dad,” says Donna. “He was a re­ally well-rounded per­son.”

— Bruce Fretts, with re­port­ing by

Katie Bruno and Ilyssa Panitz

“When I de­cided that I wanted to be an ac­tor, I knew I had to work hard and be great.” — Robert

Robert with wife Donna and daugh­ter Rachel in

1997

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