Celebrity Then And Now
Publication: . Posted by Lexi Schwartz
Celebrity Then And Now
Posted by Lexi Schwartz
Family Matters, The Cosby Show
Currently Known For:
1988 - 1998
September 23, 1968
Family Matters, The Cosby Show
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During the 1990s, one of the biggest shows on television certainly had to include “Family Matters”. Though Steve Urkel was the character that audiences most remembered from the show, there were a lot of other strong characters and actors involved. This included Michelle Thomas, who was already coming off of a successful TV series at the time and continued to act after “Family Matters” had ended. It was at this time that she lost her life after a battle with cancer, leaving many shocked and saddened.
Thomas came from a family that was no stranger to entertainment. She was born on September 23, 1968 in the Boston area in the town of Brookline. Thomas’s mother had experience with acting in front of an audience, while her father was once part of the group Kool & the Gang that had hits such as “Celebration”, “Get Down on It” and “Ladies Night”. After growing up in New Jersey, Thomas had entered and won several pageants, deciding to turn her attention to acting as she entered her 20s.
Thomas made her television acting debut in 1988 when she played the role of Justine Phillips, Theo’s girlfriend on the massively popular series “The Cosby Show”. It was a role that Thomas played over the course of eight episodes that spanned three different years, and during that time had also appeared in the television movie “Dream Date” and had a guest spot on the television show “A Man Called Hawk”.
With a lot of connections in the music industry, Thomas had also appeared in music videos for some of the biggest names in R&B during this time, and down the road would host the long-running series “Soul Train”. In 1991, Thomas added another film role with a small part in “Hangin’ with the Homeboys”. On television during the 1990s, Thomas had guest roles on the shows “Thea” and “Malcolm & Eddie” with an additional voice role in “Duckman”.
The big role that Thomas was remembered for during that time, though, came on the series “Family Matters”. The series had already been running for two seasons when Thomas joined the cast. By that time, Jaleel White’s Urkel character had gone from a recurring role to the standout, so the direction of the show was changed quite a bit. Thomas was brought in to play Myra Monkhouse during the show’s third season as a recurring character before joining the rest of the main cast that also included Reginald VelJohnson and Jo Marie Payton.
Thomas played the role for nearly 60 episodes during the show’s run, eventually becoming a standout of her own as she portrayed Urkel’s girlfriend. Ratings for the show, however, started to decline toward the final couple of seasons. With that, the show that was brought to CBS after its long run on ABC had been cancelled in 1998. Thomas didn’t have to wait long to find another job after the series.
In 1998, Thomas was cast on the popular and extremely long-running soap opera “The Young and the Restless”. Her character was Callie Rogers Stark, and she earned herself an NAACP Image Award for her work on the daytime series. Unfortunately, shortly after starting her role on the show and earning that award, Thomas received some horrible news.
Thomas was taken much too soon because of health problems that came about in 1997. It was that summer that Thomas learned that she had stomach cancer, and that treatment would be difficult as it was very rare. A tumor was found in her abdomen that had been nearly the size of a baseball, undergoing surgery to have the tumor removed.
Though she made it through the first surgery, Thomas wasn’t out of the woods yet. A second tumor had not only developed, but had also ruptured, and it was then that she knew that her time was likely short. She chose to step away from acting and live out her final days with her family. After nearly two months of fighting following her second surgery, Thomas had passed away just a couple of days before Christmas 1998 at only 30 years old in New York City with her family members present.
William J. Bell, the creator and producer for “The Young & The Restless” issued a statement following Thomas’s death. “We are terribly shocked and deeply saddened by Michelle’s death, and our thoughts and prayers are with her family,” he said. “Michelle was a great talent with a bright future ahead of her. She will be missed by all of us.”
Jaleel White, who played Urkel on “Family Matters”, talked about Thomas nearly 20 years after her death. While sitting down with an unprepared viewer, White saw him searching for details about Thomas. He had started to tear up when thinking about her, saying “You’ve got to be kidding me. Come on, man. You’ve got to be Googling this stuff before you come in here.”
Thomas’s mother, Phynjuar Thomas (now known simply as Penwah), also spoke out about her late daughter. “Everything I experienced in my childhood - the death of my friends, the people who went to Vietnam, the drive-bys - prepared me for Michelle moving on,” she said. “Once I realized that the world wasn’t so horrible and the universe wasn’t against me, because you go through that, I thanked God for helping to build a thicker skin and a spiritual consciousness. I became gracious. Michelle’s not dead we just can’t see her. Her spirit is so alive.”
“You never get over it,” she added. “(Michelle) was my best friend, my buddy, my confidant. People would say, ‘Five years from now it’ll be okay,’ that’s not true. You gotta go through it, and unless it happens to you, you won’t have the capacity to understand. There’s no handbook. But I can always tell a mother who had buried her child. It’s something that you just know.”