• June 16, 2024

Family Matters star Jaleel White was almost Rudy on The Cosby Show

Five years before Family Matters debuted on ABC in 1989, The Cosby Show entertained NBC audiences with stories about the Huxtable family: Cliff (Bill Cosby), Clair (Phylicia Rashad), Sondra (Sabrina Le Beauf) , Denise (Lisa Bonét), Theo (Malcolm-Jamal Warner), Vanessa (Tempest Bledsoe) and Rudy (Keshia Knight Pulliam).

But one of the female Huxtables was almost male, and the character was almost played by Family Matters star Jaleel White, who finally brought the iconic TV character Steve Urkel to life. That’s something even his TV family doesn’t know.

“Really? Now you’re telling us something,” said a shocked Telma Hopkins, while Kellie Shanygne Williams exclaimed, “You what?!” when it was revealed that White was close to playing the Huxtable’s youngest child, Rudy.

“In 1984, I auditioned for The Cosby Show. And it was an emotional audition,” White recalled during EW’s recent reunion with him and his expenses. “[Then-NBC president] Brandon Tartikoff was in the room. And Mr. Obviously Cosby. They brought everyone on the show, all the kids – they probably had us audition for about five or six hours. My agent was told they pretty much gave [me] a thumbs up, so I went to the audition thinking I had just gotten to the final audition. And then suddenly, this little girl walked in.”

Moans, “ohs” and “mmhmms” surrounded White as Reginald VelJohnson, Jo Marie Payton, Darius McCrary, Shawn Harrison, Bryton James, Hopkins and Williams heard the heartbreaking story unfold.

“Now that I’m an adult, I understand — you would never [put a show online] without options. … It was a complete lie just to get me back,” White continued. “The next day, they were flying everyone to New York to start rehearsals for the show. … We’re planning, we’re packing; my mom and dad were trying to figure it out, because my dad was in dental school at the time — ‘How are we going to do this, Gail? Are you going to New York with Jaleel to film?’ And [the producers] came out after about six hours and they said to a bunch of little kids and their parents, ‘We’re going to take you, you, you, and you.’”

White was not one of the children they pointed out. “That’s harsh,” Payton muttered.

“I came home, and I just… I cried my eyes out. But I did what a child does when they’re hurt and they’re misbehaving. My mother had to grab me and shake me. She said, ‘If you react like that again in an audition, then you’re done [acting].’ She was probably even more confused that I reacted this way,” White admitted of the heartbreaking experience.

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But all was not lost.

“The very next year, I was cast in another show called ‘The Cosby Clone,’ Charlie & Co., with Flip Wilson and Gladys Knight, and that show only lasted one season,” he said. “I continued to work and go to school continuously. I worked all my youth. And then [Family Matters] came along, literally, probably about six months ago, I was completely determined to quit [acting] because I was going to the NBA.

But White’s professional basketball dreams had to give way to his newfound fame with the comedy TGIF, a series that lasted nine seasons (eight of them on ABC before the series moved to CBS for the ninth and final year).

To see White in character who wouldn’t be the same if he weren’t the one wearing suspenders and oversized glasses, watch all nine seasons of Family Matters — plus the comedies Other ABC and TGIF titles include Full House, Step by Step and Home Improvement – now available on Hulu.

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