'H.R. Pufnstuf' Star Billie Hayes Dead at 96

Billie Hayes, who starred on the cult 1969 children's television show H.R. Pufnstuf and Mammy Yokum in Li'l Abner, died on Thursday. She was 96. Hayes died of natural causes at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, a family spokesperson told The Hollywood Reporter.

Hayes was best known for playing the villainous Wilhelmina W. Witchiepoo on H.R. Pufnstuf. The series was created by Sid and Marty Krofft. Although it only ran one season and 17 episodes in 1969, the series lived on through reruns. It continued running almost non-stop until the mid-1980s and was most recently seen on MeTV in 2014 through 2016.

The Kroffts responded to Hayes' death by sharing a quote from Margaret Hamilton, who played the Wicked Witch in The Wizard of Oz. "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," the Kroffts wrote. The brothers also cast Hayes as Weenie the Genie in Lidsville, which ran from 1971 to 1972.

Hayes was born on Aug. 5, 1924 in DuQuoin, Illinois, and began performing while still in high school. She soon moved to New York, where she scored roles in roadshow operettas. In 1956, she made her Broadway debut in New Faces of 1956. Her biggest Broadway success came in 1958 when she played Mammy Yokum in Li'l Abner. Paramount later hired her to star in the 1959 film version, which co-starred Stella Stevens, Julie Newmar, Stubby Kaye Leslie Parrish, and Peter Palmer. Hayes played the role again in a 1971 ABC made-for-TV movie.

In the 1980s, Hayes turned to voice acting. She played characters in The New Scooby-Doo Mysteries, The Black Cauldron, The Real Ghostbusters, Paw Paws, Darkwing Duck, The Nightmare Before Christmas, Problem Child, Rugrats, The Brothers Flub, The Powerpuff Girls, and Teen Titans Go!. Her final role was as Mrs. Neederlander in Transformers: Rescue Bots, which ran from 2012 to 2016. She is survived by her niece, Nancy, and nephews Tom, Louise, and Guy. Donations in her memory can be made to Pet Hope, an animal and rescue organization she founded in 1984.