NO COMEDIAN MAY BE more aptly named than Flip Wilson. As the hip, irreverent star of NBC's The Flip Wilson Show (1970-74)—and TV's first black hit variety-show host—Wilson skewered ghetto stereotypes with portrayals such as the Reverend Leroy of the Church of What's Happening Now and Geraldine Jones, a sassy siren whose trademark refrain—"the Devil made me do it"—became a national catchphrase.
Now Nick at Nite's TV Land is bringing the series back in weeknight reruns (starting Aug. 19, at 9:30 p.m., ET). Wilson, 63 and retired, remains proud of his work. "I had on all the people I admired—Louis Armstrong, Lucille Ball, Bing Crosby," he says. In its final season, the show got beaten by CBS's The Waltons. But Wilson insists he wasn't canceled—he quit. "I gave up the show when I got custody of my kids"—from the second of his two failed marriages—David, now 37, Kevin, 35, Stephanie, 30, and Stacey, 26, who lives with her father at his Malibu beachfront home.
When Wilson ventures out, he's usually swathed in leather straddling one of his two Harleys. His fans aren't fooled. "These huge guys come up to me with tears in their eyes," he says, laughing. "They tell me, 'My grandmother loves you.' "