Robert Guillaume
FILE PHOTO: Actor Robert Guillaume who starred on the television series 'Benson,' 'Soap,' and 'Sports Night' poses as he arrives for the ABC television networks 50th anniversary in Hollywood, California, US, March 16, 2003. REUTERS/Fred Prouser/File Photo

The star of US sitcom Benson, Robert Guillaume, has died at the age of 89. Guillaume had been battling prostate cancer when he died at his home in Los Angeles, on Tuesday (23 October), his widow told the Associated Press.

In 1977, Guillaume was nominated for a Tony award after starring in the first all-black version of 'Guys and Dolls', he was also the first African-American to play the titular role in 'Phantom of the Opera'.

Guillaume rose to TV stardom playing a butler in a governor's mansion on the show 'Soap', a character which spun-off into the TV hit 'Benson'.

"The minute I saw the script, I knew I had a live one," Guillaume said of 'Soap' 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."

Guillaume was born into humble beginnings in St Louis, Missouri, as one of four children in 1927.

He was fatherless and his mother named him Robert Peter Williams, which he later changed to Guillaume to sound more distinct. Guillaume had rough stints at school and in the army before excelling at St. Louis University.

After apprenticeships at theatres, Guillaume started tourist with Broadways shows. In later life, he travelled as a spokesperson for the American Stroke Association after surviving a blood clot in his brain in 1999.