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Flip Wilson
Born Clerow Wilson Jr.
December 8, 1933(1933-12-08)
Jersey City, New Jersey, USA
Died November 25, 1998 (aged 64)
Malibu, California, USA
Occupation Variety Show Host
Years active 1969 - 1986
Spouse(s) Peaches (1957)
Cookie MacKenzie (1979-1985)

Clerow Wilson Jr., known professionally as Flip Wilson, (December 8, 1933 – November 25, 1998) was an American comedian and actor. Time magazine featured his image on their cover and named him "TV's first black superstar".


Early life

Born in Jersey City, New Jersey, he was one of 18 children in an impoverished household. After years of bouncing from foster homes to reform school, 16-year-old Wilson lied about his age and joined the United States Air Force. His outgoing personality and funny stories made him popular; he was even asked to tour military bases to cheer up other servicemen. Claiming that he was always "flipped out", Wilson's barracks mates gave him his famous nickname. Discharged in 1954, Wilson started working as a bellhop in San Francisco's Manor Plaza Hotel.

At the Plaza's nightclub, Wilson found extra work playing a drunken patron in between regularly scheduled acts. His inebriated character proved popular and Wilson began performing it in clubs throughout California. He managed to get jobs at various comedy clubs using his nickname, Flip. At first Wilson would simply ad-lib on-stage, but in time, he added written material and his act became more sophisticated.


During the 1960s, Wilson became a regular at the Apollo Theater in Harlem and was a favorite guest on The Tonight Show, Laugh-In, and The Ed Sullivan Show. In 1970, Wilson got his own television program, The Flip Wilson Show, debuting on NBC. He played host to many African-American entertainers, including The Jackson Five, and performed in comedy sketches. He greeted all his guests with the "Flip Wilson Handshake," which started with hand slaps and progressed to hip-bumps. George Carlin was one of the show's writers along with him. His characters included Reverend Leroy, pastor of the Church of What’s Happening Now; and his most popular character, Geraldine, whose line “The devil made me do it” became a national expression.

In 1970, Wilson won a Grammy Award for his comedy album The Devil Made Me Buy This Dress.

A routine titled "Columbus," from the album Cowboys and Colored People, brought Wilson to Hollywood industry attention and would lead to the development of his own television show. In this bit, Wilson re-tells the story of Christopher Columbus from a slightly 'urban' perspective, in which Columbus finally convinces the Spanish monarchs to fund his voyage by noting that discovering America means that he can thus also discover Ray Charles. Hearing this, Queen Isabella, sounding not unlike Wilson's celebrated "Geraldine," says that "Chris" can have "all the money you want, honey — You go find Ray Charles!!" When Columbus departs from the dock, Isabella is there, testifying to one and all that "Chris gonna find Ray Charles!!"

The Flip Wilson Show aired through 1974, generating high ratings and popularity among viewers and winning strong critical acclaim, with an unprecedented 11 Emmy Award nominations during its run, winning two. Wilson also won a Golden Globe award for Best Actor in a Television Series.

Wilson went on to make guest appearances on numerous TV comedies and variety shows, such as Here's Lucy starring Lucille Ball and The Dean Martin Show among others. Ed Sullivan invited Wilson to perform several times on his popular Sunday night show, and Wilson would later single out Sullivan as providing his biggest career boost. Wilson acted in TV and theatrical movies including Uptown Saturday Night and The Fish that Saved Pittsburgh. In 1976, he appeared as the Fox in a television musical adaptation of Pinocchio, starring Sandy Duncan in the title role and Danny Kaye as Geppetto, with songs by Laugh-In composer Billy Barnes.

In 1984, Flip Wilson hosted the remake of People Are Funny.

From 1985 to 1986, Wilson played the lead role in the CBS sitcom Charlie & Co.

One of Wilson's better-known jokes: "Lots of crazy things happen in traveling. Just last week I was on a train. There was a woman traveling with a baby. UGLY baby! I mean, I'm not one to make comments about anyone's kid -- but this was an UGLY baby. A guy walks down the train — he's half smashed — and he stops. And he stares. And the lady says "What are you looking at?" The guy says "I'm looking at that ugly baby." A scene ensues, whereupon the conductor arrives. He says "What's going on here?" The woman says "This man just insulted me!" The conductor says "Now calm down Madam, calm down. We here at the railroad want to make sure that there are no altercations between our passengers and that everyone's trip is as relaxing as possible. Accordingly, if you allow us, please step into the dining car and the railroad will buy you a free meal. And maybe we can find a banana for your monkey."

Later life and death

After winning custody of his children in 1979, Wilson performed less in order to spend time with his family. Before becoming ill, he was an active lighter-than-air pilot. He died from complications due to liver cancer in Malibu, California, at the age of 64. He was cremated. Wilson's ashes were given to his family.

What You See Is What You Get

This popular phrase was often used by Flip's Geraldine character and inspired researchers at PARC and elsewhere to create the acronym WYSIWYG.[1]


  1. ^ Lohr, Steve (2001). Go To. Basic Books. p. 128. ISBN 0465042260.  

External links


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Clerow "Flip" Wilson (8 December 193325 November 1998) was an American comedian and actor, whose flippant sense of humour earned him his nickname while he was serving in the United States Air Force.


  • Don't order one for the road, because the road is already laid out.
  • Funny is an attitude.
  • Get well cards have become so humorous that if you don't get sick you're missing half the fun.
  • [about his alter-ego] I don't think Geraldine will be back. She was the girl of my dreams, and she carried me longer than my mother did.
  • It would be ridiculous for me to say anything negative regarding blacks having an equal opportunity on TV. After all, I was number one in the ratings four times last year and twice this season. What could be more damn equal than that? If they get any more equal, I don't want it.
  • Most drag impersonations are a drag. But women can like Geraldine, men can like Geraldine, everyone can like Geraldine.
  • My show is my statement. What I have to say is on the screen. My life is my own. I don't want to talk about my private self. Why should I?
  • The cost of living is going up and the chance of living is going down.
  • The secret of my success with Geraldine is that she's not a put-down of women.
  • Violence is a tool of the ignorant.
  • What you see is what you get.
  • When you're hot, you're hot; when you're not, you're not.
  • With all the trouble black people have, they try to forget on weekends. You've got to be good to make them laugh.
  • You can't expect to hit the jackpot if you don't put a few nickels in the machine.
  • I reserve my right to be a nigger.
  • I like the blues because when the record wears out it still sounds the same !

External links

Wikipedia has an article about:

Simple English

Flip Wilson was an African-American comedian back in the days with Dean Martin.

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