Baby Boomer Celebrity: What Happened to Flip Wilson?

Posted on September 3rd, 2013 in 1960s,1970s,Black History & Personalities,Celebrities,Pop Culture,Television by Terry Hamburg




What the heck did happen? One day, I’m the hottest comedian on television. There’s hardly a baby boomer or their parents who don’t watch and laugh their heads off. Five years later—oblivion. I was even kicked out of my own “Church of What’s Happenin’ Now.”

The Flip Wilson Show was me, no regular cast, and a bunch of big-name guest stars. In 1970 and 1971, only All in the Family got more viewers. I made the cover of Time Magazine as “TV’s first black superstar.” I put two Emmys, a Grammy and a Golden Globe in my showcase. Johnny Carson had me on Tonight 25 times.


A young Jackson Five visit the show


Lines and characters I created are still pop culture icons. Remember “The devil made me do it?” “What you see is what you get?” Geraldine? Millions of baby boomers had the Geraldine/Flip doll.



When my show finally ended, I did a television special in 1975, made a few guest variety appearances and then virtually disappeared. NBC toyed with a new Flip Wilson Show but it never got off the ground. I was the host of a daytime People Are Funny remake. It lasted 4 months. A sitcom starring Gladys Knight and me bombed, the only time Gladys Knight ever bombed. I had roles in a few movies. A well-publicized cocaine arrest didn’t help my career even though it was thrown out by the California Supreme Court. I retired in 1986 and spent my time meditating, hot-air ballooning, and going on long ocean cruises.

Cast of the ill-fated Charlie & Company


Hey, I lived a great career and life, four wonderful kids, and lasted to 64.  As I said to People Magazine: “I’ve had all that you could ask for. The fat lady has sung, and there was a standing ovation.” But I still wonder how it’s possible to have such critical success and celebrity status without longevity? Let that be a lesson for Hollywood—and life. Enjoy and be thankful for the ups because you never know what flips and dips lie ahead.


 Trivia Factoids

♦ A young George Carlin was a writer for The Flip Wilson Show.

Clerow Wilson, Jr. was born into poverty, one of 18 children. In and out of foster homes and reform schools, at 16 he lied about his age and joined the Air Force. In the service, he informally entertained his buddies with hilarious stories and characters. He always described himself as “flipped out,” so his barrack mates gave him the nickname “Flip.”


Baby Boomer Trivia Questions


Who was the first black to win the Academy Award for Best Actor or Actress?

James Earl Jones
Diana Ross
Sidney Poitier
Dorothy Dandridge


It happened in 1982. Who was the first black to win the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor?

James Earl Jones
Lou Gossett
Sidney Poitier
Bill Cosby


Answers at end of post


Flip Photo Gallery



Sidney Pointier won Best Actor for Lillies of the Field in 1963. Sultry Dorothy Dandridge was the first black to be nominated for Best Actor or Actress in her role as Carmen in the 1954 musical film Carmen Jones.


Lou Gosset, Jr. was the first black to win Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of tough-as-nails Sergeant Emil Foley in An Officer and a Gentlemen.

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