Former General Hospital star Billie Hayes (ex-Agent Brighton O'Reilly) died of natural causes on April 29 at Cedars Hospital in Los Angeles. The actress, famous for playing the comically wicked Witchiepoo on the 1969-70 Saturday morning live-action children's classic H.R. Pufnstuf, was 96.
Born in DuQuoin, Illinois, Hayes got her start in the entertainment business as a professional singer and dancer who began performing in local nightclubs at the age of nine. She quickly caught the eye of theater impresario J.J. Shubert, who cast her in principal roles in three of his roadshow operettas: Student Prince, The Merry Widow, and Blossom Time. She went on to appear in Broadway shows such as Li'l Abner and New Faces of 1956 before transitioning to television in the mid-60s with appearances on the series The Monroes and The Monkees.
Hayes's most famous television role was that of the cackling, bumbling, eccentric witch Wilhelmina W. Witchiepoo on H.R. Pufnstuf, which she landed in 1969. Hayes was so successful in the Sid and Marty Krofft series, she reprised her role for the 1970 feature film adaptation Pufnstuf; for the early 70s H.R. Pufnstuf spinoff Lidsville (where she played the dual role of Witchiepoo and the kindlier Weenie the Genie); for The Paul Lynde Halloween Special; and for the second and final season of The Banana Splits Adventure Hour.
In 1981, General Hospital called on Hayes to play a streetwise international spy named Agent Brighton O'Reilly. The character -- who was a mentor to Robert Scorpio (Tristan Rogers) in the WSB -- helped Robert, Luke (Anthony Geary), and Laura (Genie Francis) in their quest to stop a nefarious Cassadine plot.
"My dear wonderful Billie Hayes has died," wrote Rogers when he heard of his former GH costar's death. "Sadly I only got to work with her on GH but it was a magical relationship. Right away [then-GH executive producer] Gloria Monty saw something unique and ran with it. I cannot tell you how her passing saddens me."
My dear wonderful Billie Hayes has died. Sadly I only got to work with her on GH but it was a magical relationship. Right away Gloria Monty saw something unique and ran with it. I cannot tell you how her passing saddens me.- tristanrogers (@tristanrogers) May 3, 2021
Hayes is survived by her niece, Nancy Powers; nephews Tom Brosch, Louie Brosch, and Guy Brosch; their spouses; and several great-nieces and great-nephews. In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations to Pet Hope, the Los Angeles-based animal rescue nonprofit organization that Hayes founded after adopting a puppy abandoned in the basement of Broadway's St. James Theatre during the run of Li'l Abner.
What are your favorite memories from Billie Hayes's time as GH's Agent O'Reilly? Did you watch her as her famous H.R. Pufnstuf character, Witchiepoo? We want to hear from you -- and there are many ways you can share your thoughts.