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‘Benson’ Star Inga Swenson Has Died – Her Husband of 70 Years Was by Her Side

Inga Swenson | Caroline McWilliams, James Noble, Rene Auberjonois, Ethan Phillips, Robert Guillaume, Inga Swenson, Missy Gold | Source: Getty Images

  • Inga Swenson has passed away at age 90.
  • She was best known for starring in “Soap” and its spin-off series “Benson” as Gretchen Kraus.
  • Swenson is survived by her husband, son, and granddaughter.

Inga Swenson was a veteran television actress and singer who portrayed the role of the German cook named Gretchen Kraus in the ABC popular ’80s sitcom, “Benson.”

The TV show aired for seven years, from 1979 to 1986. She was nominated for three Primetime Emmy Awards for Outstanding Supporting Actress for her performance.

Actress Inga Swenson poses for a portrait on January 1, 1985 in Los Angeles, California | Source: Getty Images

Actress Inga Swenson poses for a portrait on January 1, 1985 in Los Angeles, California | Source: Getty Images

“Benson” was a spin-off series of the show “Soap,” in which the television star played the character of Ingrid Svenson for several episodes.

Swenson was a trained lyric soprano and had a successful Broadway career. She performed in critically acclaimed stage shows in the 1960s as Lizzy Curry in “110 in the Shade” and Irene Adler in “Baker Street.”

Inga Swenson as Gretchen Kraus in the ABC TV series "Benson" on May 4, 1984 in Los Angeles, California | Source: Getty Images

Inga Swenson as Gretchen Kraus in the ABC TV series “Benson” on May 4, 1984 in Los Angeles, California | Source: Getty Images

The talented star received two Tony Award nominations for both performances in the Best Actress in a Musical category. Swenson also performed in “Camelot,” “Peer Gynt” and “The First Gentleman.”

In addition, she appeared in movies, including “Advise and Consent,” “The Miracle Worker,” “Lipstick,” and “The Betsy.” However, her role as Gretchen Kraus in the hit show “Benson” turned her into a household name.

(L-R) Robert Guillaume, Inga Swenson, Didi Conn, Missy Gold, Ethan Phillips, James Noble and Rene Auberjonois pose for promotional photo for "Benson" on January 1, 1982 in Los Angeles, California | Source: Getty Images

(L-R) Robert Guillaume, Inga Swenson, Didi Conn, Missy Gold, Ethan Phillips, James Noble and Rene Auberjonois pose for promotional photo for “Benson” on January 1, 1982 in Los Angeles, California | Source: Getty Images

Sadly, Swenson, a bonafide star, died on July 23, 2023, at age 90. The Nebraska native reportedly passed away from natural causes in Los Angeles.

It turns out the Hollywood star’s death did not come as a surprise for her family because her health had deteriorated in the past few months, according to her loved ones.

Swenson’s Health Had Declined in Recent Months

Swenson’s son Mark Harris disclosed her health had declined the “last six months.” He also revealed that her husband, Lowell Harris, was by her side at a “board and care facility” when she took her last breath.

Swenson and Lowell wed in February 1953 and welcomed two sons, Mark, and James Harris. Unfortunately, James passed away in 1987 at age 26 from a motorcycle accident.

Inga Swenson pictured in a promotional photo for the TV show "Benson" on January 1, 1980 in Los Angeles, California | Source: Getty Images

Inga Swenson pictured in a promotional photo for the TV show “Benson” on January 1, 1980 in Los Angeles, California | Source: Getty Images

According to her family, the mother of two wanted to be cremated and have her ashes buried with her deceased son James in San Rafael, California. Swenson had been married to the father of her children for 70 years when she passed. Like her, Lowell is also a singer and an actor.

The family’s matriarch is survived by her beloved spouse, son Mark, an assistant editor with credits in “Blues Brothers 2000” and “Digging to China,” and her granddaughter Lily.

The “North and South” alum was born in Omaha, Nebraska, on December 29, 1932. She was only 15 when she lost her father, an attorney and Swedish consul, in a car crash.

Inga Swenson appearing in the hit sitcom "Benson" on January 1, 1980 in Los Angeles, California | Source: Getty Images

Inga Swenson appearing in the hit sitcom “Benson” on January 1, 1980 in Los Angeles, California | Source: Getty Images

Swenson graduated from Omaha Central High School in 1950 and later studied acting at Northwestern University under famed acting teacher Alvina Krause – who wrote about her in 1962, saying:

“When she was on stage in a supporting role, other, more colorful actresses faded out; attention always went to a tall, quietly beautiful girl seemingly doing nothing to achieve focus.”

The proud teacher divulged that her student’s method of getting into character was a “mystery,” adding, “She used no tricks of characterization, no incomparable vocal eccentricities: there was nothing in her work to label ‘theatrical,’ no moments of bravura acting. Yet she invariably wove her spell.”

A portrait of Inga Swenson smiling on January 1, 1985 in Los Angeles, California | Source: Getty Images

A portrait of Inga Swenson smiling on January 1, 1985 in Los Angeles, California | Source: Getty Images

As for Swenson herself, she revealed in a 1983 interview how she felt about joining a sitcom long before “Soap” and “Benson” came along on the small screen, saying:

“I never had any interest in sitcoms because I lacked all the qualities. I walk into a casting office and sit down with my knees together. People take one look and say, ‘You’re not funny. You don’t even have a funny face.'”

Swenson’s Co-star Robert Guillaume Also Died

Another main character from “Benson,” Robert Guillaume, passed away in October 2017. He died of complications from prostate cancer at his Los Angeles home. He was 89.

Like Swenson, Guillaume was well-known for starring in “Soap” and “Benson.” He was first known for portraying the role of Benson DuBois as a supporting character in “Soap” (1977-1981).

Actor Robert Guillaume as Benson DuBois and Inga Swenson as Gretchen Kraus in the series "Benson" on January 1, 1983 in Los Angeles, California | Source: Getty Images

Actor Robert Guillaume as Benson DuBois and Inga Swenson as Gretchen Kraus in the series “Benson” on January 1, 1983 in Los Angeles, California | Source: Getty Images

The Missouri native later became a star as his role rose from butler to lieutenant governor. The actor bagged two Emmy Awards for both parts.

He made history by becoming the first African American performer to win the award for Best Actor in a Comedy Series in 1985. Guillaume spoke candidly about his role during the 1985 interview.

Robert Guillaume posing for a portrait on January 1, 1977  | Source: Getty Images

Robert Guillaume posing for a portrait on January 1, 1977 | Source: Getty Images

“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,” said Guillaume, adding he had executed the role in such a way that when he looked back on it several years later, he would be proud of what he made it out to be.

Guillaume was also a singer and did exceptionally well in stage musicals. He received a Tony Award nomination in 1977 for playing gambler Nathan Detroit.

The television star was also recognized for being the first African American to belt out the role in “Phantom of the Opera” in a Los Angeles production.

(L-R) Robert Guillaume, Missy Gold, Inga Swenson, James Noble, Lewis J Stadlen, Caroline McWilliams pictured in "Benson" on January 1, 1980 in Los Angeles, California  | Source: Getty Images

(L-R) Robert Guillaume, Missy Gold, Inga Swenson, James Noble, Lewis J Stadlen, Caroline McWilliams pictured in “Benson” on January 1, 1980 in Los Angeles, California | Source: Getty Images

After the show “Benson” ended, which also starred Jerry Seinfeld, Guillaume continued to work as a voice actor, having lent his voice to Rafiki in Disney’s “The Lion King,” including starring in the 1998 sitcom, “Sports Night,” which aired for two seasons until 2000.

Guillaume was born in St. Louis, Missouri, on November 30, 1927. His mother named him Robert Peter at birth, but he adopted the last name Guillaume after launching his acting career. It is the French version of William, and he shared that he chose the last name because he wanted “a measure of distinction.”

The Hollywood star admitted in a 1984 interview that he would have probably changed his last name if he had been born Robert Guillaume to Robert Williams. He grew up in severe poverty without a father.

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