Comedian Wayland Flowers, the creator and voice of a bawdy, cackling puppet called Madame, died of cancer in Los Angeles on Tuesday, his publicist said. He was 48.
Flowers collapsed while performing at Harrah’s resort in Lake Tahoe on Sept. 2. He was flown to Dawson, Ga., to spend time with his family, then returned to Los Angeles where he had his home, for further treatment.
Spokeswoman JoAnne Geffen said Flowers’ family asked that no other details of his death be released.
The raunchy old hussy who was to make him famous on television and in nightclubs came to life when Flowers went from Georgia to New York City as a young man to work for a company making stage props. Someone gave him a wooden puppet of a witch. She became Madame.
Flowers always insisted that Madame had a mind of her own and that she said things “that even surprise me.” Three years ago he told a Times interviewer that Madame was a composite of family members and other women important to him as a youngster in Georgia.
“Oh, yeah,” he said, “Madame was my mama, my grandmother, my aunt and a lot of people I had watched in the movies. She’s Mammy Yokum to Marlene Dietrich to Marjorie Main.”
It did not take long for Flowers and Madame to build a nightclub following, but the salty old woman used so much profanity and made so many off-color remarks that television seemed out of the question.
Nevertheless, they appeared on “The Andy Williams Show” during the 1960s and were a hit. In the ‘70s, they were on a Marlo Thomas children’s special that won an Emmy award.
They were seen frequently on the reincarnated “Laugh-In” and “Hollywood Squares.” They were regulars for four years on the music show “Solid Gold” and in 1982 presided over the short-lived, syndicated show “Madame’s Place.”
As TV work tapered off, Flowers said, “I think television has had enough of us for a while, which is fine with me.”
He and Madame stayed busy, however, appearing in clubs and at special events across the country. Madame was even the mistress of ceremonies at a Miss Nude America contest in San Francisco.
Flowers created other characters, including Crazy Marv, Jiffy from Harlem, Mr. Mackelhoney and Baby Smedley. But it was Madame who took over. “About five minutes into my act,” he said of working with her, “I disappear.”
The comedian-ventriloquist leaves a sister, Frankie Van Cleave, a brother, James and an aunt, all of Georgia.
Geffen said there will be a private memorial service in Los Angeles on Oct. 22 as well as one in Dawson.