Actor Robert Guillaume, the Voice of Rafiki, Dies at 89

Acclaimed actor Robert Guillaume died Tuesday (Oct. 24) at his home in Los Angeles, as CNN reports. Guillaume was 89 and passed away a month before his 90th birthday.

Guillaume’s wife, Donna, told CNN exclusively that the actor was battling prostate cancer, a battle he ultimately and unfortunately lost. “He kinda went the way everyone wishes they could,” she said, “surrounded by love and in his sleep.”

Although he is probably best known for voicing the eccentric but wise baboon Rafiki in the Disney classic The Lion King, Guillaume had quite the impressive acting resume overall. He was known for his role as Isaac Jaffe on Sports Night as well as the sarcastic butler/cook on the ABC soap opera parody sitcom Soap. His character on the show, Benson, became so popular among viewers that he was given his own eponymous spinoff that lasted for seven seasons.

His portrayal of Benson Dubois granted him an Emmy award twice. In 1979, he won for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series for Soap and in 1995, he won an Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series for Benson – he was the first black person to win an award on those categories. Guillaume no doubt paved the way for actors like Donald Glover’s iconic win during this past Emmys.

Much of the actor’s work came to a halt after the actor suffered a mild stroke in 1999. Though the stroke was minor and had little effect on his voice, his presence wasn’t as felt in the television and film industry like it had been for the two decades leading up to it. He slowed down considerably after working on The Lion King 1 ½ in 2004 before adding the final two roles of his resume: 2009’s The Secrets of Jonathan Sperry and 2012’s Columbus Circle.

In his death, Guillaume leaves behind his wife and four children.

“He was a good father and a good husband,” she said. “He was a great, great person.”

Photo Credit: PR Photos

Sheriden Chanel is a twenty-something writer, Beyoncé enthusiast, and lover of all things visual art. Keep up with her and her musings on social via @indiebyline.