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Family Matters Actors You May Not Know Passed Away

The golden age of sitcoms produced many hilarious shows, but Family Matters stands out from the pack for a couple of reasons. For starters, it remains one of the longest-running series in the history of television to revolve around African American characters, only exceeded by Tyler Perry's House of Payne and The Jeffersons, respectively. Of course, Family Matters also introduced Steve Urkel (Jaleel White) to the pop culture lexicon, turning what was originally supposed to be a one-off character into a mainstay and all-around sitcom phenomenon.

A spinoff of the hit '80s sitcom Perfect Strangers, Family Matters began life as a modest hit before morphing into one of the most successful comedies on the small screen at the time. From 1986 to 1993, the sitcom chronicled the hilarious misadventures of the Winslow family and Urkel, capturing the hearts of viewers in the process. Audiences fondly remember these characters and the actors who portrayed them. However, some of the show's most memorable denizens have sadly passed away since Family Matters came to an end.

Rosetta LeNoire brought wisdom and wit as Mother Winslow

With the exception of The Golden Girls, grandparents are never the main stars of sitcoms. But they have been an essential function of some of the most iconic family units in small-screen comedies. From Frank and Marie in Everybody Loves Raymond to Albert in The Goldbergs, the old-timers can always be relied on to share their wisdom with their younger counterparts. Rosetta LeNoire's turn as Mother Winslow in Family Matters was critically acclaimed, and she was central to some of the sitcom's most memorable moments during its nine-season run. Kelly Shangyne Williams, who played Laura in Family Matters, even described her co-star as "[the] foundation" of the series in an interview with Entertainment Weekly.

LeNoire passed away in 2002, four years after the final season of Family Matters originally aired. She was 90 years old at the time, and she left behind an impressive body of work in television, film, music, and theater. LeNoire's championing of diversity in the arts ultimately led to the prestigious Rosie Award being created in her honor, forever cementing her legacy as one of the all-time greats.

Sherman Hemsley was Captain Marion Savage, Carl's obnoxious boss

Sherman Hemsley is perhaps best known for playing George Jefferson in both All In the Family and The Jeffersons, the latter of which gained him earned him Golden Globe and Emmy Award nominations. That said, he also had a memorable guest role in Family Matters, playing Carl's boss, Captain Marion Savage, in a few episodes between 1994 and 1995. The Captain wasn't the most popular character, presumably because of his tendency to cheat at golf and make life difficult for Carl. At the same time, Hemsley delivered a terrific performance that proved why he's regarded as sitcom royalty.

Hemsley was in his fifties when he starred in Family Matters, so he was already a veteran performer by the time he joined the sitcom. While the rest of his career primarily consisted of supporting roles, he continued to act until 2011, making appearances in shows like Family Guy and Tyler Perry's House of Payne. Per the New York Daily News, Hemsley succumbed to superior vena cava syndrome and passed away in 2012. He was 74.

Michelle Thomas played Steve Urkel's girlfriend in Family Matters

Michelle Thomas was a late arrival to Family Matters, debuting in the fourth season as Myra Monkhouse, Steve Urkel's love interest. However, much like her boyfriend before her, Myra was soon promoted to a recurring role and eventually became an integral part of the Family Matters ensemble. The character's obsession with Urkel — along with her jealousy toward Laura — made her polarizing among fans and created some entertaining moments. Of course, Thomas was much nicer than her on-screen persona.

In an interview with E! (per Today), White broke down in tears as he fondly remembered Thomas, who passed away in 1998 at the young age of 30. After being asked about her passing, the actor talked about how she was highly thought of among her peers. "She was my old co-star from Family Matters and she died of stomach cancer... quickly, White said. "She had a lot of friends in the music industry."

Barry Jenner played Carl's buffoonish boss, Lieutenant Lou Murtaugh

Before Captain Savage became Carl's boss at the Chicago Police Department, the patriarch of the Winslow gang served under Lieutenant Lou Murtaugh, played by Barry Jenner. Murtaugh was a recurring character in Family Matters between 1990 and 1992, and he was able to make a big impact with his silly antics. While he was quite incompetent at his job, he had the patience of a saint, being that he was one of the few characters who tolerated Urkel. They even developed a bond over root beer and romantic woes. Unfortunately for the pair, their friendship came to an end after Murtaugh took all of the nerd's money during a poker game.

In addition to Family Matters, Jenner had a notable role in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, portraying Starfleet Admiral William Ross in 12 episodes of the beloved sci-fi series. However, as Variety noted, Jenner, passed away in 2016 at the age of 75 following a long battle with leukemia. His other popular credits include St. Elsewhere and JAG.

Family Matters launched Naya Rivera to childhood superstardom

Naya Rivera was a child star when she appeared in Family Matters as Gwendolyn, a young child who asked Urkel, of all people, for love advice. The actress only appeared in three episodes of the sitcom, but her performances caught the eye of television executives and she subsequently landed parts in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, The Arsenio Hall Show, and The Young and the Restless. As a youngster, Rivera was known for her confident performances and upbeat charisma. As Today pointed out, some of the adults who worked with her back in the day claimed that she was wise beyond her years and had a natural gift for the craft.

Unsurprisingly, Rivera's stardom continued into adulthood, especially with her role as Santana Lopez in the musical-comedy Glee. Tragedy struck in 2020, however, when her body was found in a river after she disappeared during a boating trip with her son, Josey. She was only 33 years old. According to Hello Magazine, the autopsy report revealed that "accidental drowning" was the cause of death.