Billie Hayes, Star of ‘H.R. Pufnstuf,’ Dies at 96

by Matthew Wilson

On a sad day for children’s entertainment, actor Billie Hayes has passed away. Hayes, of course, starred on the TV show “H.R. Pufnstuf.” 

According to the Hollywood Reporter, a family representative confirmed Hayes passed away. The actor died last Thursday (April 29) at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. The family listed the cause of death as natural causes. Hayes was 96-years-old.

Fans, of course, will remember Hayes for her villainous portrayal on “H.R. Pufnstuf” in 1969. The actor portrayed the theatrical witch Wilhelmina W. Witchiepoo. The show featured live puppetry aimed at children. She partnered with creators and brothers Sid and Marty Krofft for the show. In response to her death, the Kroft family issued a statement.

On Twitter, they wrote: “Margaret Hamilton (Wizard of Oz) once told us that Billie Hayes was ‘one of the best witches ever’ We couldn’t agree more. Rest in Peace dear friend.”

Billie Hayes and Her Career

Born on Aug. 5, 1924, Billie Hayes initially had music on the brain. She played in her hometown orchestra while in high school. Hayes grew up in DuQuoin, Illinois. But she soon toured across the Midwest as part of a singing and dancing act.

Theater felt like an easy transition. Hayes moved to New York where she worked on roadshow operettas such as “Student Prince,” “Blossom Time,” and “The Merry Widow.” She later appeared on Broadway as well. One of her most memorable roles was as Mammy Yokum in “Li’l Abner” for instance. She took over the role from Charlotte Rae, playing it through the rest of the show’s Broadway Run. She later reprised the character for the 1959 film of the same name and the 1971 television film on ABC.

During her career, she later partnered with the Krofft brothers once again. She played the bumbling Weenie the Genie on the children’s show “Lidsville” in 1971. Like “H.R. Pufnstuf,” that show also only lasted one season. But it is beloved by its viewers.

In the 1960s, she also toured with “Hello, Dolly!” across the country. She appeared in other TV shows such as “Bewitched,” “General Hospital,” and “Trapper John, M.D.”

In her later career, Hayes transitioned into voice acting. She was the voice behind some of the most popular cartoons such as “The Black Cauldron,” “The New Scooby-Doo Mysteries,” “Darkwing Duck,” “The Brothers Flub” and “Transformers: Rescue Bots.”

Hayes is survived by her niece, Nancy, and nephews Tom, Louie, and Guy. The family asked for donations in her memory be made to Pet Hope.