By Maureen Lee Lenker
May 03, 2021 at 10:13 PM EDT
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Billie Hayes, the character actress best known for her comedically villainous turn as Witchiepoo on H.R. Pufnstuf, has died. She was 96.

Hayes died Thursday of natural causes. Her family announced the news.

"In addition to being a very talented and special person, Margaret Hamilton (Wicked Witch of the West/Wizard of Oz) once told me that Witchiepoo was the best witch ever," H.R. Pufnstuf co-creator Marty Krofft said in a statement to EW. "And as far as I'm concerned, there was no one better than Billie Hayes. She was a home run for us and H.R Pufnstuf."

The vaudeville-inspired Witchiepoo stole the show on H.R. Pufnstuf, which ran for only 17 episodes on NBC in 1969. It was also adapted to a feature film, 1970's Pufnstuf, and Hayes reprised the role there. Much like Wiley Coyote's perpetual quest to kill the Roadrunner, Witchiepoo was perpetually trying to steal the magical Freddy the Flute, with Hayes offering a slapstick performance kitted out in green make-up and a fake nose.

She also brought Witchiepoo back on H.R. Pufnstuf creators Sid and Marty Krofft's other shows, including The Banana Splits Adventure Hour and Lidsville. As part of the pantheon of great pop culture witches, Witchiepoo also appeared on the 1976 Paul Lynde Halloween Special in a sketch with The Wizard of Oz's Wicked Witch, Margaret Hamilton.

Billie Hayes was born April 11, 1925, in Du Quoin, Illinois, and she got her start in show business at a young age, dancing at local nightclubs beginning at age 9.

Witchiepoo

She began her career on the stage, rising to prominence on Broadway. She made her Broadway debut in Leonard Sillman's New Faces of 1956, alongside Maggie Smith, after appearing in the revue What's New With Paul Lynde.

Hayes' biggest Broadway success came as Mammy Yokum in the 1956 musical adaptation of the comic strip Lil' Abner. She replaced original cast member Charlotte Rae in the role, and then Hayes went on to portray Mammy in the 1959 movie and a 1971 TV special.

In the national tour of Hello, Dolly! starring Betty Grable, Hayes played jittery hat shop assistant Minnie Fay.

On screen, she found particular success in voiceover work, playing roles in The New Scooby-Doo Mysteries, The Flintstones Comedy Show, Trollkins, The Real Ghostbusters, Rugrats, Transformers: Rescue Bots, The Black Cauldron, The Night Before Christmas, The Powerpuff Girls, and more.

In the 1980s, Hayes had a recurring role on General Hospital as international spy Agent Brighton O'Reilly. Other TV credits include The MonkeesBewitchedDonny & Marie, and Murder, She Wrote.

Hayes was also a great animal lover and founded the nonprofit animal rescue organization Pet Hope, serving as its president until her death.

Hayes is survived by niece Nancy Powers, nephews Tom Brosch, Louie Brosch, and Guy Brosch; their spouses; and several great-nieces and -nephews.

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