Clerow Wilson Jr., known professionally as Flip Wilson, (December 8, 1933 – November 25, 1998) was an American comedian and actor.
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.
Wilson eventually became a regular at the Apollo Theatre in Harlem and was a favorite guest on The Tonight Show, Laugh-In, and The Ed Sullivan Show. Finally, Wilson got his own television program, The Flip Wilson Show, debuting on NBC in 1970. He played host to many African American entertainers 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 Geraldine, whose line “The devil made me do it” became a national expression.
The show aired through 1974, gaining high ratings and popularity among viewers. It also won strong critical acclaim, nominated for 11 Emmys during its run, winning two. Wilson himself won a Golden Globe award for Best Actor In A Television Series.
He also won a Grammy Award in 1970 for his comedy album "The Devil Made Me Buy This Dress".
Wilson's stand-up comedy routine "Columbus," from his album Cowboys and Colored People, earned him the good notices which led to his getting his own television show. Wilson re-tells the story of Christopher Columbus from a slightly 'urban' perspective, with Columbus finally convincing 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!!"
He made many guest appearances on other TV comedies and variety shows, such as Here's Lucy starring Lucille Ball and The Dean Martin Show among others. Ed Sullivan gave Wilson numerous guest shots on his popular Sunday night show, and Wilson would 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.
From 1985 to 1986, Wilson played the lead role in the sitcom Charlie & Co..
One of Wilson's best-known jokes was relayed as follows: "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."
After the final season of his show, Wilson made several appearances in films and other television programs. However, after winning custody of his children in 1979, he performed less in order to spend time with his family. Wilson is one of very few celebrities to become an FAA certified Hot Air Balloon Pilot. Before becoming ill he was an active lighter-than-air pilot. He passed away from complications due to liver cancer in Malibu, California at the age of 64.
This popular phrase was often used by Flip's Geraldine character and inspired researchers at PARC and elsewhere to create the acronym WYSIWYG.