If you were one of the kids who were stuck at home on a Friday night in the 1990s, or if you watched Nickelodeon before school in the 2000s, odds are, you subsisted on a steady diet of Family Matters, an ABC sitcom that ran from 1989 to 1997 as part of the TGIF lineup that, at one time or another, featured shows such as Full House, America’s Funniest Home Videos, Perfect Strangers, and of course, Step By Step. The show actually had its final season in 1998 over on CBS.
It certainly didn’t break any ground with the multi-generational family living under one roof, its portrayal of an African-American family of some means, crazy neighbors who steal the show, or any other sitcom tropes that came at that point… but it did put all of them together into one easy-to-digest program.
The show was actually a spinoff of Perfect Strangers, which most people will remember for Bronson Pinchot doing a low-rent Andy Kaufman foreign-man knock-off with Balki Bartokomous always uttering the catchphrase “Don’t be rah-dic-u-lus.” Most of the TGIF shows tried to come up with a catch phrase, with Full House working in multiple ones like “Have Mercy,” “Cut it Out,” “Well, Excuuuuuse Me,” and “You Got It, Dude.” Now that we think about it, TGIF was too full of catchphrases.
Like most successful sitcoms that are on the air for a decade or so, the actors who played the roles of the Winslow family or their friends experienced differing levels of difficulty finding work after the show went off the air nearly 20 years ago. Some gave up on Hollywood, while others soldiered on. Unfortunately, a few also passed away, and it may surprise who those people are. While some only appeared a few times and some were on all 215 episodes, you won’t believe what the cast of Family Matters looks like now!
15. Reginald VelJohnson
Reginald VelJohnson’s acting career has really come full circle. He started out in the mid-1980s getting bit parts, usually as a white-collar guy. He was a corrections officer in Ghostbusters and a limo driver in Crocodile Dundee, and it looked like things were continuing down the same road when he took a bit part as the husband of a recurring character on Perfect Strangers. That character turned out to be police officer Carl Winslow. He and Jo Marie Payton had great chemistry, and producers were looking for a spin-off opportunity, so Carl Winslow went to be the patriarch of Family Matters. VelJohnson has had a few other big parts, most notably in a couple of the Die Hard movies, but now — in his late 60s — is slowing things down and taking the same kind of white-collar guest-starring roles he first made famous 30 years ago. He’s recently filmed episodes of Girl Meets World, Ray Donovan, and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.
14. Rosetta LeNoire
Rosetta LeNoire played the sweet, feisty grandmother Mother Winslow, and while many of the young stars of the show can list Family Matters as the start of their career, it was the end for LeNoire. It’s actually a shame if she’s only remembered for an ABC sitcom of the 1990s because she did a lot for black actors in the New York theater community dating back to the 1960s. She created the AMAS Repertory Theatre Company dedicated to multi-ethnic productions, which began in 1968. She put the theater itself in East Harlem to better serve the African-American and Hispanic communities. In 1988, just as she was getting ready to play Mother Winslow, the Actors’ Equity Association decided to name its award for promoting diversity in theater in honor of LeNoire, who was the first recipient. Her theater still exists, now in midtown Manhattan. She died of pneumonia at the age of 90 in 2002 and didn’t appear on Family Matters in the final year when it moved to CBS. She’s buried under her married name of “Rosetta Brown.”
13. Kellie Shanygne Williams
Kellie Shanygne Williams, as daughter/sister/Urkel love interest Laura Winslow, is the only performer other than Reginald VelJohnson to appear on all 215 episodes of Family Matters during its decade-long run. She quickly landed on another series, the Joan Cusack-helmed What About Joan, but that show lasted only two seasons, and except for a couple of guest appearances here or there, it’s been more than 15 years since Williams has been a regular on our TV screens, not counting all of the reruns. She decided to give back to her community, starting a theater program for underprivileged children in the Washington DC area. She said in an interview once that she was part of a program for kids at Howard University, that it inspired her to follow her dreams, and that she hoped she could do the same for others.
12. Darius McCrary
While he certainly hasn’t seen the same kind of success he did as brother/son Eddie Winslow during the long run of Family Matters, it’s not too much of a stretch to say that Darius McCrary has been the busiest member of the cast when it comes to keeping his acting career active. He hasn’t had a breakthrough role on any series, but he’s appeared in at least 10 episodes of six other series — including an 86-episode run on The Young and The Restless — and he’s appeared in multiple episodes in various miniseries and several other short series, like The Leftovers on HBO. He can currently be seen playing Otis Leecan opposite Queen Latifah in the Fox Network series The Star. He also recently shot Snowfall, a pilot about the 1980s cocaine scene in Southern California.
11. Tammy Townsend
If Family Matters had lasted another season or two, you would’ve probably seen a lot more of Tammy Townsend, who played the role of Greta McClure, Eddie’s serious girlfriend in the last two seasons of the show. It’s rumored that if a tenth season had occurred, Eddie would’ve proposed and maybe married Greta. Despite joining the show late in its run, Townsend still appeared in 14 episodes. Prior to that show, she already had nearly 20 credits to her name, and in the subsequent two decades since Family Matters has been out of production, Townsend has continued to carve out a decent career for herself with guest spots on dozens of shows and as a bit player on several shows that never quite caught on. Most recently, she’s been seen in the last several years of the Disney show KC Undercover, where she played the mother of the lead character.
10. Jaleel White
Walk into any mall or workplace in this country and utter the words “Family Matters” to anybody in particular, and you’re going to likely be met with a cacophony of Steve Urkel impressions and catchphrases. Jaleel White brought the nerdy, pesky neighbor to life like few have animating a supporting character in the history of television. There’s a very easy argument to be made that he was so good, it’s hurt his career in the last 20 years because despite now being a 40-year-old guy, he’s always going to be seen as a 16-year-old nerd. White tried to show his acting prowess taking on the dual role of Stefan Urkel, a hip, urbane cousin of Steve, but if that was an effort to show casting agents what he could do, it fell short. He’s done a ton of TV guest work, but even shots as a regular have been few and far between. Most recently, he was featured in five episodes of Me, Myself & I, but whether he returns or the show gets picked up for a second season remains to be seen.
9. Michelle Thomas
After years and years of seeing Steve Urkel get rejected by Laura, fans of Family Matters wanted the little geek to finally meet the right one, so producers introduced Michelle Thomas to the show. She played Urkel’s successful love interest, Myra Monkhouse, for 55 episodes in the later seasons of the show’s run. Thomas was no stranger to television, having played the girlfriend of Theo Huxtable, Justine Phillips, on eight episodes of The Cosby Show. Once Family Matters was off the air, Thomas did a few guest spots but found a regular home on The Young and the Restless in 1998. She got the gig shortly after having had a lemon-sized tumor surgically removed from her abdomen. In late 1998, a second tumor appeared and ruptured. She died at the age of 30 a couple of days before Christmas and is buried in New Jersey.
8. Jo Marie Payton
Had it not been for Jo Marie Payton being cast into a one-time guest-starring role on Perfect Strangers, there likely wouldn’t have been a Family Matters. Payton holds the distinction of being the only main character to leave the show halfway through a season. Rumors are that Payton didn’t like the fact that as the season rolled on, the Steve Urkel character became the focal point and the family dynamic faded into the background. She claims that she did her contracted eight seasons and didn’t want to keep going. The brass at CBS, hoping for a seamless transition to their network, enticed her to stay several early episodes after the show went over there, but she wasn’t interested in continuing on once that short-term deal was finished. She’s now a regular on the show Mann & Wife on The Bounce Network. Yeah, we’ve never heard of it either.
7. Bryton James
It’s rare when an actor or actress can disappear for a half-decade and come back with a slightly different name and become arguably even more successful the second time around, but such is the case for Bryton James, who was better known to fans of Family Matters as Richie Crawford, the little cousin to the Winslow gang who lived with the family. He performed the role under the name “Bryton McClure.” After his long run on Family Matters, Bryton disappeared from the public for five or six years during his teen years. He returned in 2004 with a role on The Young and the Restless, where he continues to appear all of these years later and is approaching 800 episodes for his character, Devon Winters. The producers have been good about letting James appear elsewhere, and the versatile actor has plied his craft in seven episodes of The Vampire Diaries and is a sought-after voice-over artist, having been in Young Justice, DC Superfriends, Star Wars: Rebels, and Winx Club.
6. Shawn Harrison
It’s one thing to be typecast as the nerdy friend who will always be remembered in a sitcom from the ’90s and then not be able to get steady work after that, but poor Shawn Harrison seems to be typecast as the stupid friend whom nobody remembers from a ’90s sitcom and, as a result, he still can’t get steady work 20 years later. Producers were probably hoping some of that Steve Urkel magic would rub off on Harrison’s Waldo Geraldo Faldo, and while Harrison was hilarious in the role, he just didn’t capture audiences like Jaleel White did. Hopefully, he saved his money from appearing in over 100 episodes of Family Matters, because, since then, work has been spotty, with his biggest gig being a character named “Peaches,” who showed up in five episodes of the TV show Girlfriends about five years after Family Matters went off the air. Showing he had a sense of humor about the whole thing, he appeared as himself, constantly getting annoyed when everybody recognized him as Waldo, in the 2009 indie film The Old Man and the Seymour. If you’ve never seen it, try tracking it down. Any fan of 1990s TV or movies would love its references.
5. Telma Hopkins
If you were to look up “supporting entertainer” in the dictionary, there had better well be a picture of Telma Hopkins there, as the actress/singer was never the star but played second-fiddle in a lot of well-remembered projects for nearly 45 years. In the 1970s, she was one half of Dawn from Tony Orlando and Dawn — best known for “Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Old Oak Tree” and appeared on their short-lived variety series. In the 1980s, she was a regular on both Bosom Buddies and Gimme a Break. The 1990s were taken up playing Rachel Crawford on Family Matters, and from 2002-2006, she was in Half & Half, one of the few successful shows on UPN. She also appeared in the TBS comedy Are We There Yet? for three years and the short-lived Kelsey Grammer FX Network show Partners in 2014. While she isn’t as quickly remembered for Family Matters despite appearing in nearly 100 episodes, among the many cast members, she’s arguably had the best television career spanning nearly five decades.
4. Cherie Johnson
Cherie Johnson spent nearly the first 20 years of her career in front of the camera, with a string of hits that would make any actor proud, but considering she was able to successfully make the on-camera transition from child actor to teen actor to adult actor, claiming two decades of success is even more impressive. The world was first introduced to Cherie when she played an eponymously named best friend to Punky Brewster during that show’s five-year run. After a couple of years off, she made the transition to Family Matters as Laura’s best friend, appearing in only a couple episodes per season at first, but rising to nearly half the episodes in the last couple of seasons. Once that show went off the air, Johnson took another couple years off but bounced back with a similar role on The Parkers. From this point forward and for the last 10-15 years, Johnson has split her time between guest-starring on TV shows and producing independent films.
3. Orlando Brown
If you watched a lot of TV or saw plenty of kids’ movies from 1995 to around 2010, Orlando Brown was one of those guys who fell firmly into the camp of “Haven’t I seen that guy somewhere before? What was he in?” He appeared in the final couple seasons of Family Matters as 3J, but his biggest claim to fame is his role as Eddie Thomas in That’s So Raven. Since that show has gone off the air, his acting gigs have slowed down a lot, but that appears to be because he’s focused more on music. Oh, and things are bound to slow down when you get in a lot of trouble with the cops as Brown has done in recent years. Arrested on charges such as domestic violence and drug possession with intent to sell, Hollywood seems to have distanced itself, and Brown’s most recent notoriety comes from claiming he had a physical relationship with Raven during the show. He wasn’t invited back for the reunion.
2. Barry Jenner
If you didn’t watch the early years of Family Matters, you may not remember the character of Lt. Murtaugh, who only appeared in 18 episodes between 1990 and 1992, but his exchanges with Steve Urkel were among the funniest of the early years. Jenner was a lot like Lt. Frank Drebin from the Naked Gun movies with his deadpan way of delivering lines he didn’t seem to realize was funny. Jenner rarely had the chance to do comedy up to that point in his career. He’d been a regular character actor on television dating back to the 1970s when he landed the role of Carl Winslow’s co-worker. He appeared in 11 episodes of Something So Right and 12 episodes of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine after his stint on Family Matters, and while his career slowed in his later years, he took jobs right up until his death in 2016. Even FindAGrave.com has no idea where he’s buried.
1. Jaimee Foxworth
Back in the 1980s, the child-star trainwreck upon which all others were judged was Dana Plato. After being kicked off of Different Strokes for a drug problem, she delved in and out of p*rn until her death, serving mainly as the poster child for why you don’t want your kid to be a child actor. In the 1990s, Jaimee Foxworth was that person. She was written off of Family Matters after four seasons because time spent on her storylines went to Jaleel White’s Steve Urkel character. The fifth season continued as if the youngest daughter, Judy, had never existed. Foxworth bounced around Hollywood for nearly 10 years, was heavy into marijuana, and tried to start a musical group called “S.H.E” but was largely forgotten until she resurfaced in adult movies under the name “Crave.” Foxworth didn’t push her Family Matters connection, but once p— producers figured out who she was, they continued to recycle the same couple scenes in nearly a dozen films, using her real name and Hollywood connection. This allowed her entry back into Hollywood, appearing on a lot of reality and where-are-they-now shows like Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew. The only time she pops up anywhere these days is to recount her fall from grace.
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