Clerow “Flip” Wilson (1933–1998) might not be a household name to the millennials that populate modern metropolises, but to the generation that grew up with disco and the Beatles, Wilson is a fondly remembered comedian who broke social barriers and won the hearts of countless Americans along the way.
His career might have begun when he lied about his age to enter the Air Force at 16. During his stint there, the nickname “Flip” was given to him due to the “flipped out” tales he would tell. The name stuck, and a legend began. After his service, he worked as a Frisco bellhop who moonlighted with comedic interludes of nightclub performers. He caught the eye of a Miami businessman and was soon sponsored. In almost no time, he was a comedy club regular.
Wilson’s legacy truly launched with Johnny Carson invited him to star on The Tonight Show. Continuing his prime-time ascension, he appeared on Laugh-In and The Ed Sullivan Show, where he captivated even more audiences and established a name for himself. As a black comedian in the sixties and seventies, he was a social trailblazer who helped tie the strands of a disparate culture.
All of this culminated in his own program, The Flip Wilson Show. With Wilson’s regular character of the relatable Geraldine Jones and his outrageously funny skits, he soon became a highlight of households everywhere. Never before had the world seen such a diverse comedian who effortlessly brought people together.
In his later years, after his show ended its run, Wilson guest starred in many popular shows and movies, all the while maintaining his likable attitude. He ended his run at the age of 64 after a bout with liver cancer. Nevertheless, his cultural influence is still apparent, and he should be remembered as one of the great seminal American entertainers.