Every actor wants that breakout role that will propel them into the mainstream stratosphere. However, finding that one perfect character can be a blessing and a curse for some actors as they can become typecast and find it difficult for lightning to strike twice. Not only are many asked to play similar characters for the rest of their careers, but even decades after taking on these roles, people still ask them to say memorable catchphrases or do famous dances. These are a few of the many stars who created iconic characters but never quite found the same success again because of said character.
The suspenders, high-pitched voice and glasses helped create the persona of Steve Urkel on “Family Matters.” It was the breakout role which turned Jaleel White into the star of the sitcom after he was only scheduled for only a few appearances. “Did I Do That?” quickly caught on and doing the “Urkel Dance” followed not too much later. The show has lived on in re-runs and DVD, making him very rich from the royalties, but Jaleel has complained about being in Steve’s shadow. Even during his recent stint on “Dancing With The Stars,” more folks wanted to see him do the Urkel Dance than the Pasodoble.
J.J. Evans, for good or bad, became the heart of “Good Times.” ‘Dynomite!’ was the character’s catchphrase and Jimmie Walker became an even bigger star than the principal actors, James Amos and Esther Rolle. The two even left the show because J.J. had become bigger than the show (and also because of failed contract negotiations and other reasons of course) and it has remained Walker’s claim to fame since even though he claims he’s never bothered to watch a single episode.
For six years, Carlton Banks was the perfect foil to Will Smith on “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air.” He even perfected the Carlton Dance which was set to Tom Jones’ “It’s Not Unusual.” Ribeiro went on to star in other roles, including playing Dr. Max Stanton on “In The House” but none of his other roles have been as well received as Carlton. To this day, people still call him Carlton, and it probably doesn’t help that he just lead a flash mob doing the “Carlton Dance.”
The late actress effortlessly played Aunt Esther on “Sanford and Son.” Page gave Redd Foxx tit for tat, earning herself a place in TV history as a grumpy but lovable character. She got other roles on shows like “227” and “Martin” where she called any and everyone a “sucka,” but her character of Esther and her ‘Watch it Sucka’ catchphrase remain classics.
Kellie played the object of Steve Urkel’s affections on Family Matters, Laura Winslow. Although she had starred in commercials prior to this role, being Laura gave her the most recognition. After the fact though, she did a few roles but not much, and the recognition for them didn’t come. Most people really didn’t even know her real name and stuck with calling her “Laura.” In recent years, she has married and had a child but has used her fame to help a new generation of actors. She launched a fine arts program for the youth at Howard University’s Children’s Theater.
Gary became a star because of his character Arnold on ‘Diff’rent Strokes’. “Whatchu talkin bout Willis?” is still used in everyday conversation to get a laugh or two, and even when Coleman would do other TV roles and appearances, he would have to say it. The pint-sized actor found success and subsequent drama because of this role. He accused his parents of milking him out of his millions and became angry when he couldn’t carve an identity for himself outside of the role. He struggled with his notoriety and addictions until his death in 2010.
The eccentric actress was one of the “It” stars of the ’80s during her run on the “Cosby Show.” Lisa and her character Denise were so popular that the spin-off series “A Different World” was created around her. Lisa left “A Different World” after the first season after getting pregnant and returned to the “Cosby Show” after the fact. Though she’s tried, Lisa’s never quite had the same impact with another character and really hasn’t done too many movie or TV roles since the early ’90s.
Who knew another man’s story about his tumultuous but hilarious relationship with Rick James could typecast another man? But that’s what happened to Dave Chappelle in a way. After doing the iconic Charlie Murphy True Hollywood Stories skit dressed in a braided wig with a “Unity” ring and with the catchphrase, “I’m Rick James b***h,” people were hooked. Chappelle once commented on the show about the fact that he would try and take trips with his family only to have random fans–and Mickey Mouse–point at him and scream the phrase. His response? “Could you not call me a b***h around my kids, please?” Type Dave’s name into Google right now and guess whose name comes up first as an association and related search?
Rick James b***h.
Stephanie Guerilus is a multimedia journalist and published author. Follow her @qsteph.
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