The generation I grew up in fondly remember Bill Cosby and ‘The Cosby Show’ but before our time, there was another African-American titan, Clerow “Flip” Wilson who once ruled network television. My parents, aunts and uncles would often reminisce on his show and the characters created by Wilson. Until reading this biography, my knowledge of him was very limited as I only saw clips of him if they happened to be on television. This book came as a suggestion from a high school friend and author who’s always dead on when it comes to good reads. Having read Sammy Davis Jr’s ‘Yes I can’ and the stories of Billie Holiday, James Baldwin and Langston Hughes, I was curious to take a look into Wilson’s life and learn about his personal struggle to become one of the biggest African-American stars of his day. Born during the Jim Crow era, the early part of the book exposes the ugly climate of racial prejudice prevalent throughout the United States. Some readers may be uncomfortable, but I stress that it’s important to read through this part as these experiences would help shape Wilson into the entertainer and man he would later become. Making it big in television, his world expands exponentially and we follow Flip as he moves through celebrity circles becoming friends with George Carlin, Richard Pryor and countless others. But for all of the highs we see in his life, there are also the lows. We see a gifted entertainer struggle to maintain a flourishing career while at the same time trying to be a father to several children and partner to their mother. No stranger to drugs, his dependence on some would stay with him throughout his life. It’s often been said that there’s a fine line between genius and insanity and in Wilson, the truth in that statement comes to light.
As the 1970s drew to a close and the 1980s approached, the television industry began to change. Bill Cosby’s ‘The Cosby Show’ debuted and became a landmark success followed by dozens of sitcoms. Wilson’s show, though no longer on the air, paved the way for many young stars and his success served as an inspiration to thousands of young African-American men and women. Although he passed away in 1998, his legacy continues to live on and for many Americans, Clerow Wilson will always be known as “Flip”.
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