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Robert Guillaume, TV’s Benson, Passed at 89

Robert Guillaume, TV’s Benson, Passed at 89

Best known for his role as Benson DuBois in the television series Soap and the spinoff Benson, Robert Guillaume was an accomplished operatic singer and stage actor. He was also a sensitive man whose turbulent personal life reflected a troubled childhood. He died Tuesday at the age of 89 from complications of prostate cancer.

Born into poverty in St. Louis on Nov. 30, 1927, Robert Peters Williams (he would later change his surname to its French translation because he “wanted something different”) was raised by his loving, strict grandmother, who sent him to Catholic school. In his autobiography, Guillaume: A Life, Guillaume said that his mother, an alcoholic and a prostitute, rejected him because of his dark skin.

His academic talents carried him to St. Louis University and Washington University, although his studies were interrupted by service in the U.S. Army.

After leaving school, Guillaume began honing his acting skills with the Karamu Players troupe in Cleveland, where he performed in musical comedies and opera. In 1959, he toured with the Broadway musical Free and Easy, but his official debut on Broadway came in 1961 in Kwamina.

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