AceShowbiz - Beloved U.S. children's TV star Billie Hayes has died, aged 96. The actress, who portrayed wicked witch Witchiepoo in "H.R. Pufnstuf", passed away on Thursday, April 29 in Los Angeles.
A Broadway veteran, Hayes also played Mammy Yokum in both the Broadway and film versions of musical "Lil' Abner".
Born in Du Quoin, Illinois, she began her showbusiness career as a young dancer in nightclubs and was a classical music scholar, performing with the Vince Genovese Orchestra.
She made her New York stage debut in New Faces of 1956, alongside British actress Maggie Smith, before replacing Charlotte Rae in "Lil' Abner".
The role led to film and TV credits, but Hayes' first love was the stage and she returned to theaters in the late 1960s to play Minnie Fay in the national tour of "Hello, Dolly!" starring Betty Grable.
She landed the role of Witchiepoo in Sid and Marty Krofft's Saturday morning kids' series in 1969 and went on to enjoy a long TV career in voice roles. Upon learning about her passing, Marty remembered the actress in a tribute statement to Variety.
"In addition to being a very talented and special person, Margret Hamilton (Wicked Witch of the West/ 'Wizard of Oz') once told me that Witchiepoo was the best witch ever," he stated. "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.' "
Hayes also appeared on "General Hospital" as Agent Brighton O'Reilly in the 1980s.
Away from the bright lights, the animal lover founded the Los Angeles-based animal rescue non-profit organization Pet Hope.