Who was Michelle Thomas?
Michelle Doris Thomas was a comedian and television actress from America. She gained fame for portraying Justine Phillips in the series ’The Cosby Show’, Myra Monkhouse in ‘Family Matters’, and Callie Rogers in ‘The Young and the Restless’. A native of Massachusetts, Thomas participated in and won several beauty pageants as a child. In 1988, she made her debut in ‘The Cosby Show’, portraying the recurring character Justine Phillips. In 1989, she appeared in her first TV movie, ‘Dream Date’. Over the course of her brief career, Thomas was featured in two films, ‘Hangin' with the Homeboys’ and ‘Unbowed’. She also made guest appearances in shows like ‘Thea’ and ‘Malcolm & Eddie’. She played Steve Urkel’s girlfriend Myra Monkhouse in the ABC/CBS sitcom ‘Family Matters’. In 1997, doctors diagnosed her with a rare form of stomach cancer, intra-abdominal desmoplastic small-round-cell tumor. Just before being cast in ‘The Young and the Restless’, she underwent her first surgery. In October 1998, she took a medical leave from the soap opera to undergo her second operation. Thomas passed away in December 1998, at Manhattan's Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. She was 30 years old at the time.
Childhood & Early Life
Born on September 23, 1968, in Brookline, Massachusetts, Michelle Thomas was one of the two children of Dennis “D.T.” Thomas and Phynjuar Thomas. She had a brother named David. Her father is an active member of the Jersey City band Kool & the Gang while her mother has been a stage actress. Thomas was raised in Montclair, New Jersey and attended West Essex High School, from where she graduated in 1987.
Since childhood, Thomas had enjoyed her time in the spotlight. She won the Miss Talented Teen New Jersey in Hal Jackson's Talented Teen pageant. When she was 15 years old, in July 1984, she was crowned the International Queen in the International Competition in Montego Bay, Jamaica.
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At the age of 19, in 1988, Michelle Thomas debuted as an actress in the series ‘The Cosby Show’. She portrayed the recurring character Justine Phillips, who is the long-time girlfriend of Theodore "Theo" Huxtable (Malcolm-Jamal Warner). She made her first appearance in the season four episode ‘The Prom’ and went on to be featured in seven more episodes. In 1989, she guest-starred as Ruthie Carver in a season one episode of ABC’s short-lived action drama ‘A Man Called Hawk’. That year, she also appeared in her first and only telefilm, Anson Williams’ directorial venture, ‘Dream Date’. Also starring Tempestt Bledsoe, Clifton Davis, and Kadeem Hardison, the film tells the story of the relationship between a father and daughter as the latter begins dating.
In 1991, she made her big screen debut in the coming-of-age comedy-drama ‘Hangin' with the Homeboys’. Directed by Joseph B. Vasquez, the movie revolves around two African-Americans and two Puerto-Ricans, who must learn to get along with each other. In the film, she shared screen space with the likes of Doug E. Doug, Mario Joyner, John Leguizamo. In 1999, her second and final film, the historical drama ‘Unbowed’, was released, about 11 months after her death. She played the role of Anna and got the chance to work with Tembi Locke, Jay Tavare, and Chuma Gault in the film.
In 1993, Thomas landed the role of Myra Monkhouse in the series ‘Family Matters.’ First introduced in the fourth season episode ‘A Thought in the Dark’, Monkhouse was a possible love interest for Steve Urkel (Jaleel White) since the beginning. She was developed as a romantic rival to Laura Winslow (Kellie Shanygne Williams). In time, Steve and Myra begin dating but that relationship does not last long. She eventually becomes obsessed with him and pines for him even in the series finale. While Thomas was initially supposed to star as a guest in the show, her acting impressed the creators and she became a member of the main cast. In total, Thomas appeared in 55 episodes.
In 1998, she joined the cast of CBS’ soap opera ‘The Young and the Restless’, playing the role of Callie Rogers. Callie is an aspiring singer and is engaged to be married to Malcolm Winters (Shemar Moore) at one point. Thomas appeared in 38 episodes before she had to take a medical leave due to her cancer.
Illness & Death
Michelle Thomas was still playing Myra Monkhouse in ‘Family Matters’ when she was diagnosed with the intra-abdominal desmoplastic small-round-cell tumor, in August 1997. She had a lemon-sized tumor removed from her stomach. In October 1998, she had to undergo another surgery as a cancerous growth in her stomach burst. When she was let go from the hospital, she travelled back to New Jersey to be with her family during Thanksgiving. Thomas passed away on December 22 or 23, in 1998, at Manhattan's Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. At the time of her death, she was surrounded by her family and friends.