The Real Reason We Don't Hear About Jaleel White Anymore

Actor Jaleel White has joined the ranks of child stars who hit it big and haven't really been heard from since. Throughout the '90s, White wore suspenders as he played the iconic Steve Urkel on the nine-season sitcom, Family Matters. He had joined the successful series halfway through season one for — what was supposed to be — a one-time guest appearance. Little did he know, his nerdy character would eventually become the show's most popular one, with Urkel turning the then-failing television series around into becoming a massive success story (via People).

Between the bumbling character's cardigans and "Did I do that?" catchphrase, everybody has always loved Urkel — so much so that he even made appearances as the distinguished dweeb in other popular sitcoms in the era, such as Full House and Step by Step. He was practically ruling the television world. "I guard this character with my life," White even admitted in 2017 to The Hollywood Reporter, which makes sense, considering the suspender-wearing teen was what kickstarted White's entire career. Unfortunately, it all seemed to end there for this young actor.

When Family Matters finished its successful run in 1998, White's onscreen prospects began to disappear. Here are the real reasons we don't hear about Jaleel White anymore.

Jaleel White's career sputtered

Jaleel White's first post-Family Matters gig was a starring role in the short-lived UPN series Grown Ups (1999-2000). Though the first episode had great ratings, it all went downhill from there. The numbers dropped significantly, and the show was cancelled after just one season. White also dabbled in voice acting, landing starring gigs in Quest for Camelot (1998) and Our Friend, Martin (1999), where he voiced the character of a young Martin Luther King, Jr. He also voiced Sonic the Hedgehog in Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog (1993-96) and subsequent series. 

In 2009, White landed a starring role as the groom in the marriage mockumentary Road to the Altar, but even that couldn't revitalize his waning notoriety. His road after that consisted of one-offs and a spin on the 2012 season of the reality competition Dancing With the Stars.

White has blamed his disappearance from television on the evolution of Hollywood, telling Access Hollywood, "People ask me all the time, 'Why haven't we seen you?' It's more of a reflection of what has happened in television development than anything to do with me."

Jaleel White's temper may have gotten the best of him

During Jaleel White's stint on Dancing With the Stars, rumors emerged about drama behind the scenes. A source cited by People claimed White "erupted" in a "tirade" against his dancing partner, Kym Johnson, earning him the nickname "Jerkel." The blowout allegedly had something to do with White stepping on Johnson's foot. Cue the "Did I do that?" refrain. An insider told the magazine, "Jaleel definitely was out of line" and that "it basically didn't have anything to do with Kym or her foot — he was just stressed out and ready to snap." White's fellow performers supposedly had to break up the altercation, and told White that he "needed to just get a grip already."

White said the accusations were exaggerated. "[The cast goes] to work every day, and there is an alley full of tabloid reporters. It's not fair to us and that's life, and I hope people can see through it. There's no drama in my life," he said (via People).

True or not true, the Family Matters alum was voted off the reality competition in week 7 out of 10, thus ending his small screen comeback.

A lot of people thought Jaleel White was dead

In 2006, TMZ said a fake story was making the rounds claiming a 29-year-old Jaleel White had died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head, leaving behind a suicide note that read, "Did I do that?" According to Snopes, the imposter Associated Press article alleged that White had "become obsessed" with his Urkel character and grew "despondent" after Family Matters was canceled. Obviously, you can't get much work in Hollywood if everyone thinks you're dead.

Jaleel White didn't dream of becoming an actor

In a 2009 interview with HuffPost, Jaleel White said acting was not his lifelong dream. "I was really into sports, and I probably would have worked in the sports field somehow," he explained. "I could have seen myself as a sports agent. I could have seen myself going to music school. But I would not have been an actor. That would not have happened." Remember, White was only 12 years old when he debuted on Family Matters.

Though a lifelong legacy as a sitcom nerd was not on his bucket list, White has no regrets. "I love what I did," he continued. "When people ask me, 'Jaleel, do you feel that role held you back?' I'm like, 'No, that's actually the only thing that kept me in the business.' It taught me that I could be really good at something." 

That's great to hear, particularly in light of all the rough coming-of-age tales from so many child actors, but it also helps explain why White's showbiz pursuits lacked the vim and vigor of some of his peers.

Jaleel White could have been a Cosby kid

Jaleel White auditioned for the role of Rudy on The Cosby Show (1984-92), which could have been an even bigger breakout hit than his stint in Family Matters. The part went to actress Keshia Knight Pulliam, but was originally intended to be played by a boy.

"That's my tragic auditioning story," White told Vanity Fair in 2011. "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 and that was supposed to be a formality at the network. And a little girl comes walking in, and I'm like — even at eight years old — 'Who's she?' And they're like, 'She's auditioning for Rudy, too.'" Though White said he went home crying after that audition, "I'm grateful that things worked out the way they did ... all of these rejections resulted in me making a s**tload of money elsewhere."

While we admire White's glass-half-full attitude, at this point in his career, rejections are rejections, and the guy could probably use another big break.

Domestic abuse allegations damaged Jaleel White's image

In 2011, TMZ reported that Jaleel White was under investigation for allegedly abusing the mother of his child, Bridget Hardy. Sources told the tab, "White allegedly punched her in one of her breast implants while they were driving on Pacific Coast Highway ... with an infant in the car" and when they arrived home, "White allegedly slapped her and pushed her into a toilet so hard it broke the tank."

White's camp denied the claims, telling the outlet, "This is just a ploy in an ongoing custody battle over their young daughter to tarnish his name." Weeks later, the actor was cleared of all charges due to a lack of evidence. However, the allegations continued to dog White's reputation. The story resurfaced during his Dancing With the Stars stint, forcing White to explain himself again. He told journalist Nancy O'Dell (via the Daily Mail), "This is not a news story. It was an attack on my joy" and "a ploy" for more money. "I've never been arrested in my life," White said. "I have no history of violence. I've never even had a cop show up to my home." Even so, the continued negative press tainted White's appearance on the dance competition and certainly didn't do his personal or professional life any favors.

"My only hope is that when my daughter Googles her parents one day in her future, she sees that her father acted with class and dignity when pressed to the fire," White told People. Perhaps she will, but Tinseltown bigwigs may be seeing nothing but red flags and bad press.

Jaleel White may be winning over our hearts as Urkel once again

While we don't hear much about Jaleel White much anymore, he hasn't quit acting consistently — no matter the size of the roles — ever since his breakout role. As much as the actor doesn't want to be typecast, even after more than two decades away from Family Matters, he still hasn't escaped his Steve Urkel image. White's recognizable role will forever be remembered by fans and will surely follow him until his final film.

However, White's time on television sitcoms has since continued on a smaller scale. Though he hasn't been given any starring roles since Family Matters, he's appeared on comedies, such as The Big Big Show and the Disney Channel revival Raven's Home. His recurring appearances in 2019 and 2020 on Raven Symone's reboot series seems to have given him some inspiration for creating his own in the near future.

So, will there ever be a Family Matters revival? White admitted in 2019 that the studio has never spoken to him about it, but his former co-star, Darius McCrary (who plays Eddie Winslow in the famous sitcom), has revealed that he's met with White to figure out how to make a follow-up series happen (via TooFab). White has even publicly teased his own proposal for a reboot, if any development executives happen to be reading. "I have some ideas," he told Q on CBC. "... [That] takes into account that the '90s were a very special time." It sure was for Jaleel White.