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Robert Guillaume, Emmy-winning 'Soap' actor, dies at 89

The Associated Press

NEW YORK — Robert Guillaume, who rose from squalid beginnings in St. Louis slums to become a star in stage musicals and win Emmy Awards for his portrayal of the sharp-tongued butler in the TV sitcoms "Soap" and "Benson," has died at age 89.

Guillaume died at home Tuesday in Los Angeles, according to his widow, Donna Brown Guillaume. He had been battling prostate cancer, she told The Associated Press.

Among Guillaume's achievements was playing Nathan Detroit in the first all-black version of "Guys and Dolls," earning him a Tony nomination in 1977. He became the first African-American to sing the title role of "Phantom of the Opera," in a Los Angeles-based production, and was the voice of the shaman-slash-mandrill Rafiki in the film version of "The Lion King."

Guillaume won a Grammy in 1995 when a read-aloud version of "The Lion King," which he narrated, was cited for best spoken word album for children. He also served as narrator for the animated HBO series "Happily Ever After: Fairy Tales for Every Child," which aired form 1995-2000.

Actor Robert Guillaume poses for a portrait in 1991 in Los Angeles.  Guillaume, who won Emmy Awards for his roles on “Soap” and “Benson,” died Tuesday, Oct. 24, 2017 in Los Angeles at age 89.

"Giant of stage + screen," tweeted filmmaker Ava DuVernay. "Also let's remember that Robert Guillaume was among the first celebs to appear at AIDS fundraisers. Thank you, sir." Actor Josh Charles tweeted "Robert Guillaume radiated such warmth, light, dignity, and above all, class. That smile and laugh touched us all."