Family Matters was one of the most popular American sitcoms of the 1990s, and is one of the longest running live action sitcoms with an African American cast. Check out what happened behind the scenes, catch up with the stars now, and learn about the biggest scandals that happened off screen.
The Success of Family Matters
Family Matters, created by William Bickley and Michael Warren, was a spin-off of Perfect Strangers, but the popular ABC sitcom, which was later sold to CBS, created a successful fan base of its own. The show ran for nine seasons, making it the second longest-running live action American sitcom with a predominately African American cast.
The show focused on the Winslows—a middle class family living in Chicago—but the introduction of their nerdy neighbor, Steve Urkel, proved to be key to the show’s success. Urkel (Jaleel White) became a breakout character on the show, and is still regularly referenced in popular culture.
Jaleel White Then
Jaleel White landed his most famous role as Steve Urkel at the age of twelve, but it wasn’t his first appearance on screen. He also had a guest role on The Jeffersons in 1984, and was cast on the short-lived CBS sitcom Charlie and Company. After a few other minor film and television roles, he hit the jackpot.
Steve Urkel was originally conceived of as a one-time guest appearance, but the character was so popular with audiences that White was offered a full-time starring role. At the height of the show’s popularity, Urkel had his own breakfast cereal (Urkel-Os) and doll. You won’t believe what he looks like now.
Jaleel White Now
Jaleel White may have played up his awkward teen years on television, but he’s definitely not an Urkel in real life.After Family Matters ended, White starred in the UPN series Grown Ups, attended UCLA, and appeared in Dreamgirls, Boston Legal, House, and Psych. He also shocked Family Matters fans when he appeared on season 14 of Dancing with the Stars. Who knew Urkel had abs?
In addition to his television and film appearances, White has been successful in voice acting. You might recognize him as the voice of Sonic the Hedgehog in all American animated series. While Steve Urkel may have propelled Jaleel White to fame, he didn’t always have fuzzy feelings about the role.
White’s Fraught Relationship with Urkel
White may have accepted the role of Steve Urkel when he was still an awkward teen himself, but by the time the series ended in 1998, he was 22 years old and completely tired of the role. He had to avoid physical activity and shave every day to maintain his character’s appearance.
In 1999, shortly after the series was canceled he said, “If you ever see me do that character again, take me out and put a bullet in my head and put me out of misery.” He later came to terms with the character, and told Vanity Fair in 2011, “I loved playing those characters […] but the fact is that I was maturing. […]I was retarding my own growth as a man in order to maintain the authenticity to what I thought that character should be.”
There’s a Real Steve Urkel
When the co-creator of Family Matters, Michael Warren, was trying to come up with an appropriately goofy name for the nerdy neighbor that would become one of the show’s most popular characters, he turned to his real life for inspiration. Warren had a friend named Steve Erkel, so he changed the spelling a little and gave the name to the character he thought would only make one appearance.
Though Michael Warren obviously wanted to honor his friend with a little shout out on his show, the popularity of Steve Urkel had some unintended consequences for poor Steve Erkel. The real-life Erkel was subjected to daily prank phone calls for years. Warren must have thought, “Did I do that?”
Where Did Judy Winslow Go?
Judy Winslow, the family’s youngest daughter, was played by Jaimee Foxworth from the first to the fourth season (though Valerie Jones appeared in the pilot). She was nine years old as the series began, and was attending sixth grade when she disappeared from the show without any explanation.
Behind the scenes, Foxworth was apparently asking for more money for her role, but the show’s producers decided to lose the role altogether. William Bickely, the co-creator and executive producer, would only give the reason that she was cut due to a “budget consideration.” It’s a little hard to believe no one in the family would notice their sixth-grade daughter had disappeared, but the show carried on as if she never existed.
Jaimee Foxworth Now
Unfortunately, Jaimee Foxworth has had a rough go of it since her departure from Family Matters. She battled substance abuse and depression and was prompted by a judge’s ruling that her trust fund of more than $500,000 be used to save her family from bankruptcy.
She later starred in adult films, credited as “Crave,” and appeared on Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew to address her substance abuse problems. After a long battle to get her life back on track, it seems like things are looking up for Foxworth. She welcomed her son, Michael Douglas Shaw, Jr., with her longtime boyfriend, Michael Shaw, in 2009, and in the fall of that year, Life After chronicled her substance abuse recovery.
Darius McCrary Then
Darius McCrary landed the role of Eddie Winslow, the oldest child of Carl and Harriette Winslow, on Family Matters, but that wasn’t the actor’s first role. The then child actor made his film debut in 1987 in the comedy Big Shots as an eleven-year-old street hustler named Scam. He also had a role in the 1988 film starring Gene Hackman and Willem Dafoe.
Shortly after the series ended, McCrary co-starred in the short-lived UPN series Freedom. In 2009 he joined the cast of the daytime drama The Young and the Restless. However, his rocky personal life and a terrifying scandal are currently plaguing McCrary.
Recent Accusations Against Darius McCrary
In 2017, court documents filed by Darius McCrary’s wife, Tammy Brawner, made several serious claims against the actor, calling him “violent, destructive, and emotionally unstable.” The documents, which were filed in the Lost Angeles Superior Court on February 15th, claim McCrary “uses drugs and drinks heavily on a regular basis.”
Brawner has a temporary restraining order against her husband and alleges the actor threw a cell phone at her when she was eight months pregnant with their daughter Zoey. The most disturbing claim is that McCray “held [our daughter] over a hot stove with a fire going and boiling water going.” She claimed the incident occurred when Zoey was “no more than eight or nine months old.” McCray’s lawyer maintains Brawner is trying to “extort money out of Mr. McCrary.”
Family Matters Crossovers
Family Matters started as a spin-off of Perfect Strangers, but the show also did a number of crossover episodes with other sitcoms. In season 4 of Full House during the episode “Stephanie Gets Framed,” Steve Urkel helps Stephanie Tanner deal with her anxiety about wearing eyeglasses.
Urkel’s name also popped up on Boy Meets World in the episode “Beauty and the Beast” when he sent a chain letter to Corey Matthews. The two never appeared on each other’s show, but in Girl Meets World, Reginald VelJohnson (who played Carol Otis Winslow) had a cameo as an NYPD officer. Those weren’t the only times Urkel ventured out of his own show.
A Grand Entrance on Step by Step
In the original ABC broadcast, the final gag of the third season of Family Matters, “Brains Over Brawn,” led directly to the opening of the second episode of Step by Step, “The Dance.” Steve Urkel’s jet pack causes him to fly through the Winslows’ roof as the final episode of the third season ends, and crash land in Port Washington, Wisconsin where the Lambert-Foster family of Step by Step is enjoying a family barbecue.
Urkel then goes on to help his pen pal Mark Foster and comforts Al Lambert after her date dumps her just before the school dance. He also does his infamous dance—The Urkel Dance—in the Step by Step episode.
The Urkel Dance
The Urkel Dance was a popular novelty dance that originated in the season two episode “Life of the Party.” The lyrics instructed dancers how to pose: “If you want to do the Steve Urkel dance/All you have to do is hitch up your pants/Bend your knees and stick out your pelvis/I’m telling you, baby, it’s better than Elvis!”
The dance appeared in Urkel’s first crossover episode on Step by Step. A promotional cassette single of the song was released, and Jaleel White performed the song in character at the 5th Annual American Comedy Awards alongside Bea Arthur of Golden Girls fame.
Michelle Thomas as Myra Monkhouse
Michelle Thomas landed a recurring role as Myra Monkhouse, Steve Urkel’s girlfriend, on Family Matters. She was originally meant to be a one-time character, but appeared many times on the show, and became a regular character in season six. She and Steve grow apart in season nine, and after they break up, it’s unclear what happens to her.
Sadly, Michelle Thomas was battling cancer behind the scenes. She was diagnosed with a rare form of stomach cancer in 1997 and underwent several surgeries until her death in December 1998. She was 30 years old at the time of her death.
Kellie Shanygne Williams Then
Kellie Shanygne Williams landed the role of the oldest Winslow daughter and object of Urkel’s affections, Laura Winslow. Her character is independent and focused on education to the point where she becomes distraught when her straight-As are broken by a B+ grade. In the show, she is accepted to Harvard University but declines because her parents can’t afford the tuition.
Though Laura rebuffs Steve Urkel throughout the show, they become a couple in the final season, and are engaged to be married in the third to last episode, “Pop Goes the Question.”
Did She Do That?
In 2012, Kellie Williams found herself caught up in a major scandal. There was speculation concerning a $25,000 kickback to the disgraced D.C. councilmember Harry Thomas Jr. who was sent to federal prison.While there was no evidence that Williams was responsible, a Washington City Paper article outlined their reasons for suspecting the actress.
Thomas stole more than $350,000 by funneling cash through the Children & Youth Investment Trust Corporation to three different nonprofit organizations which shuffled money back to him. Williams, who founded the youth arts training group called the Kellie Williams Programs, had regular contact with Thomas during his scam.
Urkel’s Popularity Didn’t Please His Co-Stars
Family Matters originally focused on the Winslow family, and their nerdy neighbor was supposed to be a one-time character. Instead, Steve Urkel became the most memorable character on the show, appeared in spin-offs, and was printed on t-shirts and lunch boxes. Apparently, that caused some problems on set.
In a 2011 Vanity Fair interview, Jaleel White was asked about his relationship with Reginald VelJohnson, who played the Winslow family patriarch and was supposed to be the star of the show. “Things were definitely strained in the early going,” said White. “There’s no sense in hiding that. There was a division between myself and the rest of the cast, but over nine years and 215 episodes, obviously relationships get better.”
Steve Urkel Was Almost a Huxtable
Before Jaleel White was cast as Steve Urkel, the child actor auditioned for the role of Rudy Huxtable on The Cosby Show—and he almost got the part. White told Vanity Fair, “We were all packed up and ready to go to New York and my agent had told my parents that they needed to start looking for places to live out there. Next thing you know, there was one more audition that was supposed to be a formality […] and a little girl comes walking in.”
Bill Cosby decided to model the Huxtables on his real-life family, and so Keshia Knight Pulliam was ultimately cast in the role of Rudy Huxtable, the youngest child of Cliff and Clair Huxtable.
The Winslow House Looks the Same
The interior shots of the Winslow family house on Family Matters were created on a set, but the exterior of the house which appears in establishing shots and the credits is an actual home on Wrightwood Avenue in Chicago, Illinois.
If you happen to find yourself walking down Wrightwood Avenue, you might even recognize the Winslow family home. The exterior of the house has remained virtually unchanged since Family Matters was canceled after nine seasons in 1998. Of course, the interior of the home wouldn’t look the same, so fans of the show should avoid bothering the current residents of the home.
The Theme Before “As Days Go By”
When we think about Family Matters, we probably start humming the upbeat theme song, “As Days Go By” in our heads, but the original theme song was Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World.” It was replaced in the first season.
If it sounds similar to the theme song from Full House and Step by Step, there’s a reason. All three songs were written by Jesse Frederick, who also wrote the theme song for Perfect Strangers. In addition to penning all your favorite ’90s sitcom theme songs, Frederick is also a singer-songwriter who worked with artists like Todd Rundgren throughout the 1970s.
Steve Urkel’s Car Was Way Less Geeky Than You Thought
Steve Urkel’s micro car may have been the subject of a few jokes on the show, but it was actually a popular BMW Isetta that was manufactured in the 1950s throughout Europe. The car was way ahead of its time, and with the popularity of modern smart cars, we doubt this car would get as many laughs today.
The BMW Isetta became known as a bubble car and was the top selling single-cylinder car in the world. The three wheels meant the car could be registered under a motorcycle license, and the tiny shape made it perfect for navigating the small roads of European cities. We’re pretty sure Urkel was the original hipster.
Two Actors Appeared in Every Episode
Even though Steve Urkel ended up stealing the show, only two actors appeared in all 215 episodes of the nine-season run of Family Matters. Reginald VelJonson, who played the family patriarch, Carl Otis Winslow, and Kellie Shaygne Williams, who played Laura Lee Winslow, were the only two to earn that distinction.
Some stars decided to leave the show early. Jo Marie Payton, who played Harriette Winslow, the family matriarch, left the show partway through its final season. Rumor has it she was fed up with the Urkel-centric nature of the show, and she was replaced by Judyann Elder in the remaining eight episodes.
Jo Marie Payton Now
Jo Marie Payton was so eager to pursue other projects that she left Family Matters before the final season was done shooting. Since then, she’s appeared in dozens of guest roles. She’s been on 7th Heaven, Will & Grace (as the personal assistant to Will Truman’s boss), Judging Amy, Girlfriends, Reba, Desperate Housewives, and Tyler Perry’s Meet the Browns.
In 2015, she even appeared in the television movie The Flight Before Christmas as the wife of a character played by Reginald VelJohnson, who also played her husband, Otis, on Family Matters. Her work earned her an NAACP Image Award nomination in 2005.
Bryton James (Richie Crawford) Now
Bryton James played Rachel and Robert’s toddler son, the nephew of Harriette and Carl Winslow, on Family Matters. James started in show business when he was just two years old, and went on to portray Devon Hamilton on The Young and the Restless. He won a 2007 Daytime Emmy Ward for his role and was nominated for an NAACP Image Award.
James has also guest starred on The Vampire Diaries as warlock Luka Martin, and has a successful career as a voice actor, working on several Disney Channel, Cartoon Network, and Nickelodeon animated children’s shows. He’s also known for his work with RADD (Recording Artists, Actors, and Athletes Against Drunk Driving).
Battle of the Bulge
Jaleel White may have started playing Steve Urkel as a pre-teen, but by the time the show finished airing he was an adult—and his growth spurt caused some problems for the wardrobe department. White told Vanity Fair, “I was getting network notes on the bulge […]! I wore my pants so freaking tight and it was like, after a while, we got a problem there. So, literally, the last season, we loosened up his pants.”
When asked how he responded to such an awkward production note, White explained, “I’m the highest-paid black kid in the history of television, just so you understand that. I was trying to prolong the checks!”
Jaleel White Played Eight Characters
When Urkel-mania was at its height, the producers of Family Matters decided to cram as much Urkel into every episode as possible, which resulted in a number of additional characters for Jaleel White. White played Stefan Urquelle, Steve’s smooth alter-ego who dresses well and ditches the glasses, cousins Cornelius Eugene and Myrtle Urkel in drag, Albert Einstein, Bruce, Lee, and Elvis Presley. He also voiced the robot version of himself on a couple of occasions.
Steve Urkel’s over-the-top experiments were sometimes responsible for the alter-ego versions Jaleel White played. It’s hard to believe fans put up with such ridiculous plots, but ’90s sitcoms weren’t afraid to do a little shark jumping on sweeps week.
Orlando Brown’s Arrest
Orlando Brown, who played Jerry Jamal Jameson “3J” Winslow on Family Matters ran into some serious trouble in his personal life. The former child actor who also starred in That’s So Raven was arrested in 2016.
Brown reportedly pulled into a police station parking lot in Torrance, California while arguing with his girlfriend, then struck her while he had meth on his person. He was charged with domestic battery, obstruction of justice, drug possession with intent to sell, and having contraband in jail. Brown also previously struck a plea deal after threatening a woman in 2014 and paid a fine.
Baby Richie Was Played by Twins
Before baby Richie magically aged three years on the show, he was played by two twin boys, Joseph Wright and Julius Wright, but the producers didn’t want you to know that. Instead, He was credited as Joseph Julius Wright.
This was common practice with child actors and happened on another popular ’90s sitcom. On Full House which starred Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen as the youngest Tanner daughter, the twins were originally credited as Mary-Kate Ashley Olsen. Since California has strict labor laws that put a limit on how many hours child actors can work each day, it makes sense to cast twins to double shooting time.
The Stars Didn’t Just Act
On many long-running shows, actors become producers or directors. Stars Reginald VelJohnson, who played Otis, and Jaleel White, who played Urkel, both contributed to Family Matters in another capacity—they wrote several episodes.
Jaleel White was the writer behind the episodes “Grandmama” in season five, and “Home Again” in season eight. Reginald VelJohnson is credited for creating the story for “The Substitute Son” in season six, and the teleplay for “The Brother Who Came to Dinner” in season eight. The episode White wrote when he was just nineteen years old was one of the highest rated episodes for that year.
Some Actors Played Multiple Characters
Jaleel White wasn’t the only actor on the show to play multiple characters. Actress Garcelle Beauvais played four different characters in Family Matters. In the third season episode “Old and Alone” Beauvais played Steve’s wife, LuLu. In “Scenes from a Mall” in season five, she played a girl at the mall who Eddie tries to flirt with.
Beauvais also appeared in season six in the episode “To Be or Not to Be (Part Two)” as an alternate version of Mother Winslow in a dream. She rounded out her guest appearances in season seven’s “A Ham Is Born” when she played an actress named Nicole Moses. She wasn’t the only one.
One Guest Actor and Four Characters
Beauvais wasn’t the only guest star to play four separate characters on the show. J. Lamont Pope, who is now credited as Juan Pope, also played four characters on the show. In season three, he played a thug named Chain in “Born to Be Mild.” In season four’s “Number One with a Bullet,” Pope played a hospital orderly.
In the same season, Pope popped up again as an Army Recruit in “An Officer and a Waldo.” His most notable guest appearances were as Laura’s boyfriend Curtis Williams in seasons seven and eight of Family Matters.