Clerow “Flip” Wilson Jr. (December 8, 1933 – November 25, 1998) was an American comedian and actor, best known for his television appearances during the late 1960s and 1970s. In the early 1970s, Wilson hosted his own weekly variety series, The Flip Wilson Show. The series earned Wilson a Golden Globe and two Emmy Awards, and at one point was the second highest rated show on network television. Wilson also won a Grammy Award in 1970 for his comedy album The Devil Made Me Buy This Dress.
In January 1972, Time magazine featured Wilson’s image on its cover and named him “TV’s first black superstar”. According to The New York Times, Wilson was “the first black entertainer to be the host of a successful weekly variety show on network television.”
Born Clerow Wilson Jr. in Jersey City, New Jersey, he was one of ten children born to Cornelia Bullock and Clerow Wilson Sr. His father worked as a handyman but, because of the Great Depression, was often out of work. When Wilson was seven years old, his mother abandoned the family. His father was unable to care for the children alone and he placed many of them in foster homes. After 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 the nickname “Flip” which he used as his stage name. Discharged from the Air Force in 1954, Wilson started working as a bellhop in San Francisco’s Manor Plaza Hotel.