For a time, Family Matters seemed to be focused on the trials and travails of a middle-class family in the Windy City. Carl's mother moves in, Harriet loses her job (a convenient way of getting her off Perfect Strangers), Carl alienates the family by arresting an obnoxious actor the rest of the family likes, Harriet worries that Carl is having an affair, and so on.
Then a nerdy next-door neighbor named Steve Urkel was introduced midway through the first season and everything changed. To see how quickly Urkel became a focal point of the show, you need only check out the cover for the DVD release or look back and remember how you referred to this as The Urkel Show instead of Family Matters.
Urkel became a regular character pretty quickly, and plenty of episodes focused on something related to him instead of the Winslow family. As the show neared its final episode in 1998, the plots based around Urkel's genius became increasingly outlandish and bizarre. These included Urkel turning his dorky BMW Isetta into a drag racer, accidentally shrinking himself and Carl down to insect size, developing a serum to turn himself into a suave alter-ego known as Stefan Urquelle, and going into outer space in the series finale. Urkel even crossed over into other sitcoms, making an appearance on Full House and crashing a jet pack in the Lambert's backyard on Step by Step.
On one hand, it's kind of fun to see a sitcom so completely untethered from the rigid mold set for 90s era show. On the other hand...well, Key and Peele say it a lot better and funnier than I can.
So whatever happened to the Winslow family and their wacky neighbor?
Reginald VelJohnson (Carl Winslow)
Carl was a fairly typical sitcom dad, strict and overprotective toward his children and a bit of a male chauvinist in his marriage. Of course, he also loves his family dearly and does whatever he can to protect and care for them. Carl was particularly irritated by Urkel's often destructive visits to his home, though he often shows sympathy for his neighbor as well. Despite embodying the "fat cop" stereotype and getting ribbed about his weight on numerous occasions, Carl is also shown to be a very capable officer in the Chicago Police Department and receives two promotions over the course of the series.
Reginald VelJohnson has been somewhat typecast in the police officer role. Aside from Carl Winslow, he is best known for a brief appearance as a jail guard in Ghostbusters and the role of Sergeant Al Powell in Die Hard. He also played Gus in Crocodile Dundee. VelJohnson, now 63, has had small roles on a number of TV series since Family Matters, including That's So Raven, Monk, Bones, and Mike and Molly. Recently, he has had a long-running role as Dash Dewitt on the series Hart of Dixie.
Jaleel White (Steve Urkel)
The breakout character from the show, Steve Urkel was the Winslow family's next door neighbor. Urkel was an extremely smart but socially inept nerd. He sported suspenders and thick-rimmed glasses, had a deep love for the accordion and polka music, and spoke with a nasally voice. Urkel was quite clumsy, using the catchphrase "Did I do that?" after a mishap, but was coordinated enough to do the moves to the "Urkel Dance" on a few social occasions. Though he was often shunned by others, Urkel never bore a grudge against anyone; on one occasion, he even led a bone marrow drive to support a bully who frequently tormented him. Urkel was constantly trying to woo Laura, but at first was only successful when he transformed into Stefan Urquelle; she later began to love him for who he was, and the two got engaged at the end of the series.
Aside from Family Matters, Jaleel White might be best known for providing the voice of Sonic the Hedgehog in the animated show The Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog as well as Sonic the Hedgehog and Sonic Underground. His first acting role was on The Jeffersons, and he has stayed active ever since. His acting credits after Family Matters include a role in Dreamgirls as well as guest appearances on several TV shows including House, NCIS, Boston Legal, and Hawaii Five-0. Most recently, he and James Franco have appeared in separate commercials for the Scion iM. White, now 39, keeps an official site at jaleelwhite.com.
Jo Marie Payton and Judyann Elder (Harriette Winslow)
Harriette was the character who sparked Family Matters in the first place. She appeared on Perfect Strangers as an elevator operator for the Chicago Chronicle. She loses her job early in the series, only to be rehired as director of security before getting fired from this job in the fifth season. After that point, she is employed in a department store. Harriette isn't afraid to speak her mind, mostly to tell Carl when he's being pigheaded. She also balances her career and family life, taking a no-nonsense approach to raising her children and a similarly tough-but-fair stance at her work.
Jo Marie Payton was the first actress to portray Harriette, appearing on both Perfect Strangers and Family Matters. She was in the show for the bulk of the episodes, though she left the show midway through the final season. Payton, now 65, had a recurring role on Will & Grace, voiced Suga Momma in The Proud Family, and continues to appear in TV and movie roles. She is currently filming The Heart of a Champion and finishing up work on 54:17 and Jerico. Payton has also dabbled in music, releasing a jazz album entitled "Southern Shadows" in 1999.
Judyann Elder took over the role of Harriette for the few remaining episodes of Family Matters. Elder got her start as a Broadway actress and later moved into a number of TV guest spots and voice work for animated series. Now 67, she is still active and scheduled to appear in the upcoming film Viral. Elder has also directed a number of theatrical productions and appeared as a spokesperson for the American Cancer Society, as she survived a bout with breast cancer.
Kellie Shanygne Williams (Laura Winslow)
Laura was ambitious, popular, and intelligent, earning good grades in school and enjoying an active social life. Urkel pined for her throughout the series, and she was constantly rebuffing his advances; however, she generally had bad taste in the guys she did want to date, choosing handsome but arrogant boyfriends. Laura does develop some affection for Urkel, as he proved to be loyal to the Winslows and respectful to her, and eventually fell in love with him (even choosing the nerdy version over a cloned Steve who had been transformed into Stefan Urquelle). She and Urkel became a couple in the last season and were engaged soon after.
Kellie Shanygne Williams, now 39, appeared in several episodes of the series What About Joan after Family Matters ended, but largely fell out of acting after the show. She got married in 2009, has had two children, and has been active in several charitable organizations. One such initiative, the Kellie Williams Program, was founded in 2006 to give children in the Washington, D.C. area a chance to produce their own TV show. Her official website hasn't been updated in a couple of years, but she is active on Twitter with updates on her family as well as some charitable causes.
Darius McCrary (Eddie Winslow)
Eddie was your typical high school sitcom son: a bit rebellious against his father and not the brightest student in his class. He's good friends with Waldo Faldo and a more reluctant friend of Urkel's, although the two get along reasonably well. Eddie got into a few serious scrapes throughout the series, often due to gambling but also more violent, such as his confrontation with a gang that trashed his aunt's restaurant. Eddie is also the unwilling recipient of affections by Urkel's cousin, Myrtle. Late in the season, he follows in Carl's footsteps by becoming a police officer.
Darius McCrary, now 39, has continued acting to some degree. After a stint of brief roles on short-lived shows and TV movies, he started appearing in more prominent appearances. He played Malcolm Winters on 86 episodes of The Young and the Restless, voiced Jazz the Autobot in the 2007 movie Transformers, and played Dave in Saw VI. He was arrested for failing to pay child support earlier this year but released after agreeing to make up all back payments; his Twitter account has focused quite a bit on reforming child support laws ever since.
Rosetta LeNoire (Estelle Winslow)
I remember being quite surprised to see that Estelle, or "Mother Winslow," was a bit nasty in her first appearance. In fact, the plot of the first episode is all about how she moves in with the family and annoys everyone with her bossy attitude. But the pilot is only the testing ground for a show, and Estelle soon became known more for her wisdom and kind encouragement. In fact, she was one of the only members of the family who enjoyed getting a visit from Urkel. She remarries later in the series, much to Carl's consternation. Estelle abruptly vanished midway through the final season, with the 1997 Christmas episode as her last episode.
Before she was on Family Matters, Rosette LeNoire played a groundbreaking role in show business. She got her start in the New York theater scene, including a role in an all-black production of Macbeth directed by Orson Welles. She founded a nonprofit theater organization called Ammas in 1968 to promote interracial casting, and was a spirited advocate for racial equality in the arts. President Bill Clinton presented LeNoire with the National Medal of the Arts in 1999, and an Actors' Equity Association award for expanding participation in theater is now named for her. LeNoire died on March 17, 2002, at the age of 90.
Jaimee Foxworth and Valerie Jones (Judy Winslow)
At one point in the Key and Peele sketch, Reginald VelJohnson lists the entire Winslow family but only refers to Judy as "the other little kid." Indeed, Judy wasn't that memorable for the simple reason that she was erased from the show entirely. Harriet and Carl's youngest daughter was never really a focal point and she disappeared in 1995, reportedly as a cost-saving measure for the show. After that, the Winslow family pretended that she had never existed.
Jaimee Foxworth, now 35, graduated from high school in 1998. She reportedly had a sizable trust fund from her time on the show, but it was used by her family to resolve substantial debts before she ever saw a cent. She appeared in a number of pornographic films between 2000 and 2002 under the screen name Crave. Foxworth also battled substance abuse for awhile, a struggle televised in 2008 on Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew. She got a credit for one more adult film, a pornographic parody of The Jeffersons, in 2009. She now reportedly works at her mother's talent agency and is raising a son.
Judy was also played by a young girl named Valerie Jones, but she only appeared in the pilot episode. Her only other credited roles were two appearances on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, once as a character named Lisa in 1990 and as a young Hilary Banks two years later.
Telma Hopkins (Rachel Baines-Crawford)
Rachel Baines-Crawford was better known as Aunt Rachel, or Harriet's younger sister. She is a widow and the mother of Richie, and dabbles in writing and singing at a few points in the show. At the start of the second season, Rachel opens up a teen hangout called Rachel's Place after Urkel accidentally burns down the restaurant that preceded it. Though she was a regular throughout the series, excepting a brief disappearance to star in a sitcom called Getting By that only lasted two seasons, Rachel took her final bow after the ninth season Christmas episode.
Telma Hopkins played Addie Williams in the show Gimme a Break! shortly before coming to Family Matters. Now 67, she has remained an active actor, most notably as Phyllis Thorne on Half & Half. Her more recent roles have included Ruth Jackson on the FX series Partners and Grandma Rose on the Disney show Lab Rats.
Bryton James, and also Joseph Julius Wright (Richie Crawford)
Richie is Carl and Harriet's nephew, the only child of Rachel and her late husband. He is an infant when the show starts but ramped up to toddler age soon after. Richie is one of the few members of the Winslow family who likes Urkel, even referring to him as "Uncle Steve." Like several other characters, Richie's last appearance was in the ninth season Christmas episode.
Bryton James, who played the older version of Richie and is now 29, returned to acting after a hiatus of a few years. In 2004, he began playing Devon Hamilton Winters on the soap opera The Young and the Restless. He has stayed on the show ever since, being credited in more than 700 episodes. On five occasions, he's been nominated for the Daytime Emmy for Outstanding Younger Actor in a Drama Series; he won in 2007.
The infant version of Reggie was played by the twins Joseph and Julius Wright, who were credited under the single name of Joseph Julius Wright. It's not clear what they've been up to as of late.
Shawn Harrison (Waldo Faldo)
A good friend of Eddie's, Waldo Faldo started out as more of a villain by being a sidekick to a school bully. Retconned as a good guy, he was characterized primarily by how literal minded and slow witted he was. However, he was also shown to be a talented cook with a strong moral core, and he became the boyfriend of Laura's best friend Maxine in later seasons.
Shawn Harrison, now 41, had a limited acting career after Family Matters. He played the character Peaches on the show Girlfriends and voiced a few different roles on the animated series Legion of Super Heroes. His last credited role was in the 2012 movie Silent But Deadly. He's active on Twitter, but it's unclear what he's up to these days.
Cherie Johnson (Maxine Johnson)
Maxine is Laura's best friend and, as per sitcom rules, the two help each other through plenty of troubles while occasionally getting into situations where their own friendship is put to the test. Some episodes delve into the fact that Maxine's parents are somewhat neglectful of her, meaning she is somewhat sympathetic toward Urkel's own detached home life and a bit envious of Laura's parents. She dates Waldo for awhile, though they break up before the end of the series.
Before Family Matters, Cherie Johnson was best known as Punky Brewster's best friend (conveniently named Cherie Johnson as well). Now 40, Johnson has since dabbled in a number of different creative areas, including publishing a few novels, contributing articles and columns to magazines, producing a few films, and continuing to act in the occasional TV show or movie. She is currently filming The Execution of Nigel Harris and in post-production on Behind De Pole.
Michelle Thomas (Myra Monkhouse)
Myra was introduced as something of a one-off character to get Urkel a date, but she later began making more regular appearances. She became Urkel's steady girlfriend, although there was some ongoing tension between her and Laura as Myra suspected that Laura had a thing for a Urkel. Though this animosity eventually faded, it came back with a vengeance after Myra and Urkel broke up and Urkel and Laura began dating. Then she pretty much became a full-blown stalker, it seems.
Michelle Thomas played Theo Huxtable's girlfriend Justine Phillips on The Cosby Show and later Callie Rogers Stark on the soap opera The Young and the Restless. She was diagnosed with intra-abdominal desmoplastic small round cell tumor in August of 1997, which she had surgically removed. After a second cancerous growth ruptured about a year later, she died on December 22, 1998, at the age of 30.
Jerry Jamal "3J" Jameson (Orlando Brown)
I had stopped watching Family Matters by the time 3J was introduced, so I don't personally remember anything about him. Wikipedia's fairly robust Family Matters characters page says he was introduced as a street-smart orphan who was partnered with Urkel in the Big Brothers program. He was adopted by the Winslow family soon after.
Orlando Brown, who turns 28 in two days, has had a few movie and TV roles since Family Matters, including 100 episodes of That's So Raven and a small role in Straight Outta Compton. He has also worked on a musical career, releasing an album entitled Trade It All in 2006. Brown has had some run-ins with the law, getting arrested on charges of marijuana possession in 2007, drunk driving in 2011, probation violation in 2012, and disturbing the peace and public intoxication in 2014.