Robert Guillaume Changed The Perception of Black Men On TV With Groundbreaking Role

Beloved actor Robert Guillaume AKA “Benson” passed away yesterday. The celebrated and iconic actor was 89 years old.

Guillaume broke barriers with his role as the back-talking butler in the 70s sitcom, Soap. That role led to him getting his own show, Benson, which saw the eponymous Benson character move all the way up from being the Governor’s butler to his state’s Lt. Governor.

Guillame told ET (Entertainment Tonight) last year that he initially had second thoughts about playing the role that he is most closely identified with. According to Guillaume, the idea of playing a Black servant catering to rich White folks didn’t seem savory.

So he decided to flip the script. Literally.

“I was not the happiest camper. I had reservations. ‘Cause you’re serving food, you’re serving a family…and all that sort of thing, and it thrusts you back in time. Its as though nothing has changed since 1800”, he said.  So he decided to do something about it.

“But then the more I examined the role, and read the script, I figured out a way to take some of the stinch off of the idea”, he said, then added, “I began to look at it”.–Guillaume on ‘ET’

Benson was known for his wise-cracking, give-not-a-single-damn approach to his employers, whom he had no trouble with putting in their place.

Witty, intelligent, influential, outspoken, and quietly manipulative when he needed to be, Benson was ultimately the real power player in the room.

And the character gave viewers a glimpse of a Black man as the actual authority in a powerful and privileged White household.

For millions of viewers, it was the first time they had seen a Black man portrayed in such a way.

DuBois would earn an Emmy for the role in 1985.

Guillame, a St. Louis native, began his career on Broadway in 1959 and completed his last film project in 2012–thirteen years after suffering a stroke.

Guillame leaves to mourn his wife, Donna Brown-Guillaume, and four children.