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'Benson' star Robert Guillaume dies, aged 89

His wife said Donna Guillaume said he died at home in Los Angeles after battling prostate cancer. Photo: PA

Robert Guillaume has died, his widow revealed on Tuesday.

The actor, who won Emmy Awards for his portrayal of the sharp-tongued butler in the TV sitcoms Soap and Benson, was 89.

His wife said Donna Guillaume said he died at home in Los Angeles after battling prostate cancer.

"He kinda went the way everyone wishes they could, surrounded by love and in his sleep," she said.

Guillaume, who played Nathan Detroit in the first all-black version of Guys And Dolls, earning a Tony nomination in 1977, became the first African-American to sing the title role of Phantom Of The Opera, appearing with an all-white cast in Los Angeles.

During his run in Guys And Dolls, Guillaume was asked to test for the role of an acerbic butler of a governor's mansion in Soap, a prime time TV sitcom that satirised soap operas.

"The minute I saw the script, I knew I had a live one," he said in 2001. "Every role was written against type, especially Benson, who wasn't subservient to anyone.

"To me, Benson was the revenge for all those stereotyped guys who looked like Benson in the '40s and '50s (movies) and had to keep their mouths shut," he added.

ABC launched a spin-off called Benson, which ran from 1979 to 1986 and made Guillaume a household name.

He was born on November 30, 1927, in St Louis and is survived by his wife and four children.