A child actor with an impressive list of credits by the age of 12, Jaleel White became a star by playing the unbelievably dorky Steve Urkel on "Family Matters" (ABC/CBS, 1989-1998). Exploding from a one-episode guest star to series-conquering supernova, White's Urkel became an international craze, spawning countless products and catchphrases, including "Did I do that?" Winning three Image Awards for his work, White displayed an impressive range and flair for physical comedy, but the character was so pervasive throughout pop culture that he found it difficult to avoid being typecast when the show ended. After voicing Sonic the Hedgehog on various animated series iterations and also graduating from college, White attempted a sitcom comeback with "Grown Ups" (UPN, 1999-2000) and lent his voice to the animated film "Quest for Camelot" (1998). Slowly laying the groundwork for a career renaissance, he impressed with a cameo as a talent booker in "Dreamgirls" (2006), played a delightfully eccentric teacher in "Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer" (2011) and was named host of the Syfy game show "Total Blackout." Although it was unlikely he could ever recapture the pop cultural dominance of his Urkel days, Jaleel White proved he was a talented and ambitious performer who was determined to move beyond his child stardom.
Born Nov. 27, 1976 in Pasadena, CA, Jaleel Ahmad White began working in front of the camera in commercials at the age of three, and quickly became a veteran child actor, booking appearances on everything from "The Jeffersons" (CBS, 1975-1985) to "Charlie & Co." (CBS, 1985-86) to "Mr. Belvedere" (ABC, 1985-1990). In fact, he almost landed the role of "Rudy" on "The Cosby Show" (NBC, 1984-1992) until Bill Cosby decided to make the character a girl. White's star-making role, however, came from a more unlikely place: a one-time guest spot on the sitcom "Family Matters" (ABC/CBS, 1989-1998) as the cartoonishly nerdy Steve Urkel. It was a testament to White's charisma that he managed to turn the character, clad in big glasses, suspendered-high-water pants, and a cardigan, into not just a scene-stealer, but in effect a series-stealer. A gifted physical comedian who gave Urkel his distinctively squeaky voice and bizarrely graceful movements, White quickly proved so mind-bogglingly popular that he was given a series regular role.
Although the series had originally been intended to focus on the middle-class African-American Winslow family, headed by Harriette (Jo Marie Payton) and Carl (Reginald VelJohnson), it only achieved massive success when the Urkel character arrived, and quickly usurped the focus of the show, pushing it into more over-the-top territory. Although some of the cast members resented the switch, White's presence powered the program to full-fledged hit status, and he won a three Image Awards for his work. The international Urkel mania the character created could not be overstated. Not only did White reprise the character on a slew of sitcoms in ABC's iconic, much-loved "TGIF" lineup, but Steve Urkel also spawned a dance, breakfast cereal, doll and countless other products, as well as a string of catchphrases, including "Got any cheese?" "Whoooaaaa mama!" and "Did I do that?" For a certain generation, White-as-Steve-Urkel became an essential pop culture symbol, fondly remembered decades later.
As with many other actors who created iconic characters like Henry Winkler's Fonzie from "Happy Days," White recognized the difficulty of escaping being typecast by the long shadow of Urkel. He took admirable steps to branch out professionally, writing an episode of "Family Matters" and creating a slew of additional Urkel relatives that allowed him to demonstrate his impressive range, including the Southern belle Myrtle Urkel and the smooth clone Stefan Urquelle. When the show ended, he voiced the titular video game hero Sonic the Hedgehog on several animated series iterations. He returned to live-action television with a sitcom that mirrored his attempts to move beyond child stardom, "Grown Ups" (UPN, 1999-2000), which failed to catch fire. He lent his voice again to an animated project, "Quest for Camelot" (1998), while returning to school at the University of California at Los Angeles, where he earned his bachelor's degree in film in 2001. After appearing in several lower-profile projects, he essayed a small role as a talent booker in the Oscar-winning "Dreamgirls" (2006), revealing a fully grown-up presence.
White starred on the web series "Fake It Til You Make It" and continued to book TV guest spots, including an episode of "House" (Fox, 2004-2012) as well as the direct-to-DVD creature feature "Mega Shark vs. Crocosaurus" (2010). Revealing himself to have grown into a decidedly non-dorky adult, he made a well-received cameo as the quirky teacher of "Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer" (2011). While doing press for that film, he discussed the legacy of his Steve Urkel superstardom, displaying an admirable sense of perspective as well as stating his desire to move on artistically. Fans were glad to hear that he landed the hosting gig of Syfy's new game show, "Total Blackout" (2012). Meanwhile, in February 2012, it was announced that White would join the season 14 cast of "Dancing with the Stars" (ABC, 2005- ), competing alongside Melissa Gilbert, NFL wide receiver Donald Driver and old "Charlie & Co." co-star Gladys Knight.
By Jonathan Riggs
Cast (Feature Film)
Made his first appearance in a TV commercial for Goodyear Tires at age 3
Made his TV acting debut on an episode of "The Jeffersons" (CBS)
First role as a series regular on "Charlie & Co." (CBS)
Landed breakthrough role as nerdy neighbor Steve Urkel on "Family Matters" (ABC, 1989-97; CBS, 1997-98), first joined the show as a recurring character, but later became a full time cast member
Hosted and starred on the ABC variety show "The Jaleel White Special"
Once again voiced the video game character on ABC's animated "Sonic the Hedgehog"
Voiced the title character on the animated series "The Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog" (Syndicated)
Voiced the character Bladebeak in animated feature "Quest for Camelot"
Returned to series TV as star of the UPN sitcom "Grown-Ups"; also co-produced and wrote episodes for the show
Provided the voice for Martin Luther King, Jr., in "Our Friend, Martin"
Cast in a small role as a booking agent in feature adaptation of the musical "Dreamgirls"
Starred in the direct-to-DVD release "Who Made the Potatoe Salad?"
Played a law school graduate interviewing for a job at Crane, Poole and Schmidt on an episode of ABC's "Boston Legal"
Starred in the Web series "Road to the Altar" as a 30-something black man marrying a young Jewish girl
Appeared in the Web series "Fake It Till You Make It"; also served as writer and producer of the series
Featured in "Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer," a film adaptation of the popular Judy Moody book series
Competed on the 14th season of "Dancing with the Stars" (ABC)