While staring in Family Matters, Jeleel White was cast to do the voice of Sonic the Hedgehog for 65 episodes in the animated series The Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog in 1993. From 1993-1994, he also did the voice of the famous gaming character for 26 episodes of a different animated Sonic the Hedgehog series. He later reprised his voice-over role in the 1999-2000 Sonic Underground animated series, which lasted for 40 episodes. In this series, he also did the voices of two other characters, Manic and Sonia (Sonic’s brother and sister). His final voicing of Sonic the Hedgehog, to date, is in the 2011 Sonic fan film.
Interestingly, White’s big break almost came five years earlier than Family Matters when he was cast as “Rudy” on The Cosby Show. However, he was cut when Cosby decided the character worked better as a girl.
When White landed his role in Family Matters, the character of Steve Urkel wasn’t actually supposed to be a regular. He was originally cast in the 12th episode of the first season, at which time the show was on the verge of being canceled. His character was intended to last only one episode, but his performance and portrayal of the character, much of which was his own design, impressed the director and producers so much that they decided to keep him around as an occasional guest star. However, Urkel soon became a fan favorite and scripts were re-written to include him as a primary character. By the start of the second season, he officially became a full cast member and he soon became the highest paid person on the show.
Other TV shows White has appeared in include: Mr. Belvedere; Step by Step; Full House; Charlie and Company; The Jeffersons; The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air; Grown Ups; and House, among others.
- The glasses Urkel wore were actually a pair of White’s dad’s glasses. When he auditioned for the role, he had intended to wear old style black glasses with tape around the middle, but couldn’t find any, so just grabbed his dad’s glasses to use instead. They were over-sized as his dad was a dentist and primarily used them to keep random particles from flying into his eyes as he worked on people’s teeth. White then came up with the walk, posture, and nasal voice of the character and went to the audition.
- Around the same time White landed his role as Steve Urkel, he also was strongly being considered for a main character on Saved by the Bell.
- The original theme song for Family Matters was not As Days Go By, but rather, What a Wonderful World by Louis Armstrong. The theme song was changed after the fifth episode and reruns of the first few episodes today use the new theme song, excepting the pilot.
- White was also in the 1990 made for TV movie Camp Cucamonga. This TV movie wasn’t exactly a hit, but it did also feature Jennifer Aniston, Josh Saviano and Danica McKellar (The Wonder Years), Chad Allen (My Two Dads), and Candace Cameron (Full House).
- White’s first TV role was in a Kellogg’s commercial when he was just three years old. His parents actually weren’t the ones who wanted him doing TV, initially, but his preschool teacher convinced them they should take him around to auditions.
- White not only played Urkel and several other characters of the Urkel family, but in later seasons began writing some of the episodes of Family Matters, including several of the series’ highest rated shows.
- Contrary to urban legend, White did not kill himself in 2006 because of becoming obsessed with the Urkel character. This story was spread about presenting itself in emails as being from the Associated Press. In fact, towards the end of the show in 1998, White had come to detest the character of Urkel and even publicly stated: “If you ever see me do that character again, take me out and put a bullet in my head and put me out of my misery.” So apparently, if he was going to be killing himself, it would be because he was forced to reprise his famous role, rather than lamenting its loss.
- ER and Family Matters had sets near each other, so on breaks, White and George Clooney would frequently play basketball together.
- Sonic the Hedgehog originally was named “Mr. Needlemouse” when he was first created to become the new mascot character of Sega’s gaming system. He was painted blue to match Sega’s logo and his shoes were modeled after Michael Jackson’s boots. His personality was supposedly based after Bill Clinton, oddly enough. The original character also had fangs and was to be the boyfriend of Madonna. Obviously this was changed before Sonic came to market.
- Sonic the Hedgehog has gone on to sell over 80 million copies of the various games he’s appeared in since the original Sonic the Hedgehog came out in 1991, selling 15 million copies. It was listed as number 15 on the top 50 gaming franchises of all time by Guinness Book of World Records.
- Family Matters was actually a spin-off series of Perfect Strangers. In Perfect Strangers, Mrs. Winslow was an elevator operator in the third and fourth seasons at the Chicago Chronicle newspaper office. The show also included writers and producers of Perfect Strangers.
- This spin-off, which was almost canceled in its first season, ended up lasting 215 episodes and became the second longest running sitcom with a mostly African American cast, behind only The Jeffersons.
- The baby “Richie” on Family Matters was actually played by two kids, due to California child labor laws concerning extremely young children. This is also why shows like Full House chose to use twins for the role of Michelle Tanner.
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