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The Rise and Fall of 5 Wacky Sitcom Neighbors

The wackiest sitcom neighbors achieved the definitive benchmark of true fame in this world: single name recognition. Urkel. Kramer. Buddy. Each possessed a special quality that delighted TV watchers and propelled them into the exclusive one-name club, usually reserved for pop divas and Brazilian soccer stars. Fans parroted their catchphrases and gobbled up products with their image on them. Adoring audiences hoisted these crazy guys-next-door onto their shoulders and carried them upward to stardom and merchandising riches.

But, as we saw with last week's Michael Richards melt-down, when the show was over and the actor and character separated, the magic evaporated. Audiences shrugged them off and the actors slipped from their dizzying pedestal, plummeting to a B-list life of crappy roles, humiliating appearances on reality television and substance abuse provoked by degraded self-worth. These are the stories of the remarkable rises and humiliating falls of the wackiest sitcom neighbors of all time.


BUDDY

ACTOR: Willie Aames
SHOW:Charles in Charge

WHY PEOPLE LOVED HIM:
The duds are key to becoming a successful wacky sitcom neighbor. A good rule of thumb is that Eccentricity Equals Ratings. There's a lot of room for variation, from the uber-nerd outfits of Skippy and Urkel to the flowery Muu Muus of Mrs. Roper and Mimi Bobeck Carey. The wacky sitcom neighbor of tomorrow will probably have to strut around in drag with a dead carp tied around their necks to get a reaction.

The point is, whatever the character wears, it's got to stand out from the nauseatingly wholesome look sported by the family next door. Dare to be different. And Buddy dared. Double-dared. The best friend of Charles jumped off the screen with his 80s super-rad look. Those Hawaiian shirts and the hyper-curly hair convinced us all that he was the one that should really be in charge.

WHY HE NEVER WORKED AGAIN:
Willie Aames did... sort of. He discovered that there's one way to get back on the air: agreeing to embarrass yourself in front of a national audience on reality television. Following his stint as Bibleman in a short-lived superhero movie aimed at fundamentalist Christians, Aames started shedding the pounds on Celebrity Fit Club 2. Feel the burn, Willie? That's not from the exercise; it is the stinging shame of degradation.


URKEL

ACTOR: Jaleel White
SHOW:Family Matters

WHY PEOPLE LOVED HIM:
It was a simple formula with a golden result:

Gargantuan eyeglasses + pants hiked up to chin + clumsiness + social awkwardness = lovable nerd

White was so lovable that his role, originally intended as a bit part, wasn't just expanded, but multiplied. When Urkel cloned himself in the final season, this was more or less what the writers of the show had been doing for years. By show's end, Family Matters was filled with other characters played by White, like Urkel's smooth alter-ego Stefan Urquelle, and his cousin Myrtle Urkel. It was a new high for the wacky sitcom neighbor and a new low in the originality of television.

WHY HE NEVER WORKED AGAIN:
Given his prominent role in the show, White faced the problem of over-saturation even more than other actors playing whacky sitcom neighbors. Sadly, this has caused his legacy to sometimes be overlooked. At the 1997 WWF Slammy awards, Urkel was nominated in the "Best Bow Tie" category. However, Owen Hart—this is true—stole the Slammy award before it could be awarded. To this day, Urkel has not been officially recognized by the WWF for his work.


KRAMER

ACTOR: Michael Richards
SHOW:Seinfeld

WHY PEOPLE LOVED HIM:
The wacky neighbor crazy entrance has a long history. Remember Larry from Three's Company? You bet your Jew fro, you do! That's because Larry was a man who knew how to make an entrance. The guy (and his hairy chest) would slide into a room, full of energy, always bursting at the seams to tell Jack about a get-rich-quick or get-laid-quicker scheme.

But while Kramer wasn't the first, he raised the practice to an art form. Anybody with aspirations to a career as the wacky sitcom neighbor, learn from His Royal Highness: nobody gets noticed just by walking into a room. You've got to make yourself seen and heard! Barging is good—violently busting through the door like you're breaking and entering is even better. If however, upon entering, you happen to take out some furniture or even a small child, don't sweat it. The kid's parents may get pissed, but trust us, all will be forgotten when the Nielsens are tallied.

WHY HE NEVER WORKED AGAIN:
Even before last week's stand-up routine featuring a half-dozen n-bombs, Richards' post-Kramer career was marked by bad luck and bad decisions. His first major role after Seinfeld was headlining his own program, The Michael Richards Show. It was pulled after just a few weeks before it even got a chance. Then, Richards was pegged to star in the USA series Monk. He pulled out. The show is now in its sixth season and has won six Emmy awards.

 



WILSON

ACTOR: Earl Hindman
SHOW:Home Improvement

WHY PEOPLE LOVED HIM:
The turnover rates for wacky sitcom neighbors are staggering. For every success, there are a dozen fringe characters discarded off-screen after a couple lines. The ones that survive have long-term strategies. Wilson provided wise advice to the family next door. This made him an integral part of the show and caused audiences to overlook his suspicious practice of covering his face. Was he an escaped con on the run? A leper with a hideous chin of rotting flesh? Nobody cared. They were to busy to find out the life lesson Tim would be learning this week.

WHY HE NEVER WORKED AGAIN:
There simply are not many obscured-face roles available in television today. Also, Hindman's career has been hurt further by the fact that he is currently dead.



LARRY

ACTOR: Richard Kline
SHOW:Three’s Company

WHY PEOPLE LOVED HIM:
Larry is exactly the type of guy that you do not want bursting uninvited through your front door. On Three's Company, he reeked of sleaze. He was a swinging used car salesman, with a shirt unbuttoned to a retch-invoking degree that revealed tacky gold chains and a revolting ball of chest fuzz.

Today, we get deadbolts and restraining orders to keep guys like this out of our homes and away from our kids. But this was the swinging 70s, a decade defined by tawdry dress and morality. Everybody was too busy swapping wives over cocaine-filled fondue pots to judge Larry. He was one of them and so they loved him.

WHY HE NEVER WORKED AGAIN:
Richard Kline ditched the gold chains and continued to have a great acting career. He now works with actors, coaching them to greatness.

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