April 11, 2011

What Ever Happened to the Actor Who Played Steve Urkel?

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Steve Urkel from Family Matters – played by actor Jaleel White – is surely one of television’s most beloved and recognized personalities, up there with Kramer, George Michael, and Clarissa. His earliest appearance on the first season of Family Matters in 1989 was supposed to be a one-time cameo, but his performance was a hit, and he became the true star of the show. I recall, as a child, not even remembering that Family Matters was called Family Matters; I just told my parents that I wanted to watch “the Steve Urkel show.” Indeed, Urkel made the show; I didn’t even especially care for family sitcoms, and I really hated, for example, Full House – what I now see as the white version of Family Matters. But I put aside my distaste for this genre because I was so compelled by Steve Urkel. So what ever happened to Urkel (or, Jaleel White) after the show quietly ended in 1998?

Although Jaleel White hasn’t since gotten our attention the way he did with Urkel, his career outside of Family Matters is pretty interesting, although not necessarily stellar. For one, White is actually not a nerd or even a post-nerd blipster, even if that’s what Urkel looked like on the show (thick plastic glasses, cardigans, and high-water jeans). Second, after Family Matters ended its run, White was actually kind of bitter about the public associating him solely with a nerd. In a 1999 NYT feature on White, Christopher Nixon explained:

That bitterness grew from his feeling, long before the show ended, that he had wholly outgrown his inner Urkel, Mr. White said. In his senior year at the University of California at Los Angeles he is a film student and avid jock, closely following pro and college basketball and hanging out with Anfernee Hardaway, backcourt for the Phoenix Suns. His speech is fast and colorful — ”Some mango would be the bomb,” he tells a waitress at the Four Seasons Hotel — and his abilities as a performer, he says, extend far beyond geekdom.

Indeed, as Nixon suggests, White was actually kind of a bro, and in general, a look at his other work does show that he’s capable of playing different types of roles (for anyone interested in seeing first-hand documentation of his brohood, his sports blog for the NBA is available here).

Throughout the ’90s, White did voice acting for several cartoons, both in film and for television. He voiced the character “Bladebeak,” a combination of an axe and a chicken, in 1998’s Quest for Camelot. He was surrounded by an all-star cast that included Cary Elwes, Gary Oldman, Pierce Brosnan, and Gabriel Byrne. White then voiced the 15-year-old Martin Luther King Jr. in the educational feature-length cartoon, Our Friend, Martin (1999), which also featured a notable cast, among them Samuel L. Jackson, Whoopie Goldberg, Ashley Judd, John Travolta, and James Earl Jones (Jones played “Father King”).

In television, White was the voice of Sonic the Hedgehog in three different series based on the popular Sega videogame: Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog, Sonic the Hedgehog, and Sonic Underground.

“What can I say? I had a great run throughout my teen years, where everything I touched did a hundred episodes,” White said in a 2006 interview with Premium Hollywood. His career in live-action television was not as fruitful; however, he did star in the UPN series Grownups, but that only ran for one season (1999-2000).

In the 2000s, White was not as prolific, and like many former stars, he mostly made small appearances in either films or television series. Most notably, these appearances included a small role in the teen comedy Big Fat Liar (2002 – he plays himself), as well as one in Dreamgirls (2006). White did star in a few films around this time, but they were all direct-to-video, the most notable being Who Made the Potatoe Salad? (2006) [sic], an “urban comedy” about an L.A. police officer (played by White) visiting his fiancee’s family in San Diego.

In 2006, there were rumors that White had killed himself when an Associated Press article was circulated via e-mail. It was quickly identified as a hoax, but it caused a small stir nonetheless. The party responsible for the article had cleverly written “Authorities state that upon entering the home they discovered a young African-American male with an apparently self-inflicted gun-shot wound to the head. Also found was a note, which read simply ‘Did I do that?,’ a popular catch phrase from [Family Matters].”

In 2010, White made what is probably his most notable creative effort since Family Matters with the Hulu web series Fake It Till You Make It. All along, White had been a writer in addition to an actor (he even wrote one of the Family Matters episodes), and with this series he got his chance to write and produce.

In Fake It Till You Make It, White plays Reggie Culkin, a former child star who now works as an “image consultant” for aspiring Hollywood talent. White described the character in an interview with the Hulu blog: “I’m a baller, out of control with no explanation of any kind. I never drive the same car twice.” If you weren’t sure before that White is actually a bro, Fake It Till You Make It is indisputable proof.

As of now, there are no reports that the web series is going to be picked up, or has even done very much to help White’s career. TC mark

image – Family Matters

Dan Hoffman

Dan grew up in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. He went to college in western Massachusetts. He maintains the literary blog

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