Clerow Wilson was born
December 8, 1933 in Jersey City, New Jersey. He was not named
"Junior" even though his father, a carpenter when he could get
work, was also named Clerow Wilson. One of 24 siblings, he once
said" We were so poor even the poor looked down on me."
While a pre-schooler, his mother, Cornelia Bullock Wilson, left the family and took two younger siblings with her. Even as an adult, he agonized over why she didn't take him too. "I was just slightly older than the kids she took" he said. "Why couldn't she take one more?" When his father was unable to keep the family together, he was sent to numerous foster homes where he said he was treated either with indifference or with cruelty. He kept running away to live with an older sister, but authorities would find him and send him back.
He excelled in school and, and in the third grade, memorized all the lines for an entire play on Nurse Clara Barton. When the girl who was to play the lead became ill, he was the only person who knew her lines, so he was immediately cast. Needless to say, the serious drama became a comedy hit - with everyone except the little girl he had a crush on, Geraldine. "I could not impress her," he said years later. "She wore pretty dresses and had two long braids with bows on them. I figured she didn't like me because I didn't have nice clothes." Though he could not budge Geraldine, he realized that day making people laugh would be his ticket to fame and fortune. He set his eyes on the prize and never blinked.
Clerow dropped out of school in the 8th grade, again, because he was embarrassed by his clothing. At 16, he lied about his age and joined the U.S. Air Force. It was in the Air Force that he got the nickname "Flip." Stationed on the Island of Guam, he entertained his buddies and one remarked, "He has flippeth his lid." The name stuck and after he was discharged, he began to try his comedic talent in small night clubs, then on the Chiltin Circuit in spots like the Apollo in Harlem. He slept in pay toilet stalls, made ends meet by working as a bellhop, and paid for the birth of his oldest son by working as a truck driver. "But I was happy because I knew Where I was going," he said.
He got his big television break in 1965 on "The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson" after holding the record for being bumped off the show more than any other performer. Whenever the Show ran long, they bumped me, the new comic, off the show, Flip said. but I made a lot of money getting bumped because they had to pay me every time." He finally got on . . . several times. He played other variety shows and eventually guest-hosted "Tonight" for Carson. Some NBC specials soon followed and then his top-rated television series, "The Flip Wilson Show" which ran from 1970 to 1974 and is now reruns on TV Land Cable. He won two Emmy Awards and the hearts of television viewers all over the world.
After the series, Flip soon retired from show business saying he "was blessed to have had the success he always dreamed about." He developed a love for traveling, acquired a passion for poetry of Kahlil Gibran, played golf, went hot-air ballooning, and is his last years, enjoyed riding motorcycles.
Clerow "Flip" Wilson departed this life on November 24, 1998. Calling him "Dad" are David, Kevin, Tamara, Stacy Wilson and Michelle Trice. Missing Granddad" are Clio, Eric, Kennedy, Kimberlyn, Kevin Jr., and Ila. He is survived by two sisters, Mary and Lorraine; nephew Rashon Khan,; nieces, Tina and Colleen Wilson; sister-in-law, Elizabeth Wilson, and numerous other relatives and friends.