Wayland Flowers was born today, November 26, in 1939. He was an American actor, comedian, and puppeteer. Flowers was best known for the comedy act he created with his puppet Madame. His performances as "Wayland Flowers and Madame" were a major national success on stage and on screen in the 1970s and 1980s.
Born and raised in Dawson, Georgia, Flowers created Madame in the mid-1960s. His first big break was an appearance on The Andy Williams Show. The character of Madame is an "outrageous old broad" who entertains with double entendres and witty comebacks.
Madame's many TV appearances included Laugh-In; a long run on the game show Hollywood Squares (replacing Paul Lynde in The Center Square); a recurring comedy skit on Solid Gold; a regular on ABC's short-lived summer replacement show called Keep on Truckin', TV guest spots; and as the star of her own syndicated 1982 sitcom, Madame's Place.
Flowers' other puppets included Crazy Mary (an escapee from Bellevue mental hospital), Jiffy (a Harlem harlot with a heart of brass), Macklehoney (a crotchety, retired vaudeville comedian). His puppet Smedley worked with Marlo Thomas on Free to Be… You and Me.
Flowers was one of the first mainstream entertainers who was openly gay.
During his stint on Solid Gold, Flowers was diagnosed with HIV and eventually developed Kaposi's sarcoma, an AIDS-related cancer. Despite his illness, Flowers continued to perform. On September 2, 1988, he collapsed onstage while performing at Harrah's in Lake Tahoe. After a brief hospitalization, he visited his family in Dawson, Georgia, before returning to his home in Los Angeles. He then began hospice care at Hughes House. Flowers died there on October 11, 1988 at the age of 48.