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Also Known As: Clerow Wilson Died: November 25, 1998
Born: December 8, 1933 Cause of Death: liver cancer
Birth Place: Jersey City, New Jersey, USA Profession: comedian, actor, comedy writer, producer, bell-hop

Biography CLOSE THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

The hip and irreverent Flip Wilson, who got more mileage out of wearing a dress than any entertainer since Milton Berle, made television history as the first black to headline a hit variety show. At its height, "The Flip Wilson Show" (NBC, 1970-1974) was one of TV's hottest hours, No. 2 in the Nielsen ratings its first two seasons, and enabled its star to walk away a very wealthy man after only four seasons. Debuting not long after the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr and Robert Kennedy, the show cut across racial lines, clicking with people of all backgrounds. Audiences loved the musical guests--the Jackson Five, James Brown, Louis Armstrong and Lena Horne, for example--but the real draw was Wilson's comedy characters. Vamped out as the outrageous, miniskirted Geraldine, Wilson delivered lines that entered the nation's vocabulary like, "The devil made me do it!" and "What you see is what you get!" The Reverend LeRoy of the Church of What's Happening Now and Herbie, the Good Time ice cream man, were two of his other popular creations.Wilson surprised a lot of people by quitting the variety show, but as a child of poverty who had lived in five different foster homes, he decided to put his...

The hip and irreverent Flip Wilson, who got more mileage out of wearing a dress than any entertainer since Milton Berle, made television history as the first black to headline a hit variety show. At its height, "The Flip Wilson Show" (NBC, 1970-1974) was one of TV's hottest hours, No. 2 in the Nielsen ratings its first two seasons, and enabled its star to walk away a very wealthy man after only four seasons. Debuting not long after the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr and Robert Kennedy, the show cut across racial lines, clicking with people of all backgrounds. Audiences loved the musical guests--the Jackson Five, James Brown, Louis Armstrong and Lena Horne, for example--but the real draw was Wilson's comedy characters. Vamped out as the outrageous, miniskirted Geraldine, Wilson delivered lines that entered the nation's vocabulary like, "The devil made me do it!" and "What you see is what you get!" The Reverend LeRoy of the Church of What's Happening Now and Herbie, the Good Time ice cream man, were two of his other popular creations.

Wilson surprised a lot of people by quitting the variety show, but as a child of poverty who had lived in five different foster homes, he decided to put his family before his career. He had made enough money to live off the interest, so when he was granted custody of his four children from the second of his two failed marriages, he retired to his Malibu home to watch them grow up and really be there for them. Wilson stayed in the public eye, appearing on talk and variety shows and hosting his own specials. An NBC revival of "People Are Funny" (1984) featured him in Art Linkletter's old role, and the short-lived sitcom "Charlie and Company" (CBS, 1985-86) soured him on "... the whole skullduggery of show biz and all the inside politics." During the 90s, he has interrupted his life of leisure to portray God in "Zora Is My Name!" (PBS' "American Playhouse", 1990), reprise Geraldine on ABC's "The Jaleel White Special" (1992) and play himself on both "Living Single" (Fox, 1993) and "The Drew Carey Show" (ABC, 1996).

VIEW THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Filmographyclose complete filmography

CAST: (feature film)

1.
 Skatetown, USA (1979) Harvey Ross
2.
 Fish That Saved Pittsburgh, The (1979) Coach "Jock" Delaney
3.
 Uptown Saturday Night (1974) Reverend
4.
 100 Greatest Stand-Ups of All Time (2004) Honoree (Archival Footage)
6.
 Jaleel White Special, The (1992) Clothing Salesman; Geraldine
7.
 Zora Is My Name! (1990) God
9.
 Battle of the Network Stars XVI (1984) Nbc Team Captain
VIEW THE FULL FILMOGRAPHY

Milestones close milestones

:
Raised in foster homes
1942:
Brought the house down as last minute replacement for the little girl cast as Clara Barton in Jersey City school play when he was 9 years old (date approximate)
1950:
Served in US Air Force; gained enough confidence from performances before fellow servicemen to consider show business as a career; earned nickname 'Flip' for his irreverent humor
:
While working as a bell-hop at a San Francisco hotel, convinced manager to let him play a drunk during the wardrobe changes of the hotel's main act
:
Series of one-nighters eventually led to New York's Apollo and prime engagements in Miami Beach and Las Vegas
:
During the 1960s became a popular guest on several top shows, most notably NBC's "Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In"
1969:
Rocketed to national attention with a smash hit television comedy/variety special on NBC in September
:
Carved a niche for himself in comedic television history as the host of "The Flip Wilson Show"
1973:
Served as executive producer of NBC's "The Helen Reddy Show"
1974:
Feature debut as Reverend in "Uptown Saturday Night"
:
Hosted series of specials on NBC
1976:
Played The Fox in CBS's musical adaptation of "Pinocchio"
1981:
Dropped as commercial spokesman for 7-Up when he was arrested for possession of a small amount of cocaine
1984:
Hosted NBC's short-lived "People Are Funny", an updated version of the 1950s series hosted by Art Linkletter
:
Starred as Charlie Richmond in the CBS sitcom "Charlie & Company" opposite Gladys Knight; Jaleel White in his pre-Urkel days played Charlie's 9-year old son
1990:
Portrayed God in "Zora Is My Name!", a PBS "American Playhouse" drama about African-American writer, oral historian and folklorist Zora Neal Hurston
1993:
Appeared as himself on Fox's "Living Single"
1996:
Made another appearance as himself in ABC's "The Drew Carey Show"
1997:
Reruns of "The Flip Wilson Show" debuted on Nick at Nite and then moved to sister channel Nick at Nite's TV Land
VIEW ALL MILESTONES

Notes

He underwent surgery in September 1998 to remove a cancerous tumor near his liver.

Wilson owned the record label, Little David, home of George Carlin's hit recordings

Flip Wilson appeared on a cover of TIME magazine

Got his nickname in the air force for his "flip" remarks

"If I could marry my motorcycle, I'd roll her right up to the altar." --Flip Wilson on his passion for motorcycling, in Biography Magazine, September 1997.

About being stymied on "Charlie and Company": "I told CBS, 'My career is going down the toilet, and you're pulling the chain.'" --Wilson in TV Guide, August 16, 1997.

Wilson has been living off his interest, never touching the principal, but with Nick buying the return rights to the show, "The principal, the teacher and the whole class are very happy." --From USA Today, August 18, 1997.

About his new idea that might be ready: "I have the bug again. I'm expecting the response to seeing the show again on Nick to be very good, and this will set the groundwork for what I want to do."--From USA Today, August 18, 1997.

Companions close complete companion listing

wife:
Peaches Wilson. Dancer. Married and divorcedin 1957.
companion:
Blonell Pitman. Common-law wife; mother of Wilson's four children.
wife:
Cookie Mackenzie. Second wife; married in 1979; divorced in 1985.

Family close complete family listing

father:
Clerow Wilson. Handyman.
mother:
Cornelia Wilson.
step-daughter:
Michelle Pittman. Jewelry designer. Born c. 1956.
son:
David Wilson. Former golf pro. Born c. 1960; left a quadriplegic after a 1993 accident.
son:
Kevin Wilson. Caddy. Born c. 1962.
daughter:
Tamara Wilson. Actor. Born c. 1967.
daughter:
Stacey Wilson. Nurse. Born c. 1970.
VIEW COMPLETE FAMILY LISTING

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