Robert Guillaume, star of Benson – and the voice of Rafiki in The Lion King – dies age 89

In accepting the Emmy, he joked, “I’d like to thank Bill Cosby for not being here,” referring to the fact that the star of “The Cosby Show” and the leading contender for the award had earlier taken himself out of the running for it.

Guillaume said he was sensitive about not playing his character as a racial stereotype and was pleased that Benson evolved from being a butler to a political power player – albeit one that retained the same crotchety attitude.

‘UPWARD MOBILITY’

“In all honesty and candor and modesty, I always wanted the character to have that kind of upward mobility because it mirrored the American dream,” Guillaume told the Washington Post in 1985.

“When I took a role like Benson, which was in that time-honored sense ‘another black person in a servant’s role,’ I only took the part because it was a good part, it was a part in which I thought, with my own set of ideas about things, I could say something. And indeed that has been the case. We saw Benson was in no way anyone’s inferior.”

After the end of “Benson,” he starred in the short-lived sitcom “The Robert Guillaume Show” in 1989, as well as the series “Pacific Station” (1991-1992) and “Sports Night” (1998-2000). He suffered a stroke in 1999 on the set of “Sports Night” but was able to return to his role within weeks.

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