This ‘The Facts of Life’ Actress Broke Barriers And Defied Expectations When She Bagged A Groundbreaking Role In The 1980s

Nov 08, 2023 by apost team

Born with cerebral palsy in 1956, Geri Jewell is a seasoned veteran actress, writer, and motivational speaker. She faced adversity at a tender age because of her condition, but she went on to prove to everyone that she was more than her condition. She was known for her unwavering determination to hone her craft and talent, which gave her the opportunity to leave an indelible mark on the entertainment industry. 

Jewell is most notably known for her role in the 1980s sitcom “The Facts of Life” where she played the role of Cousin Geri. She was considered a pioneer actress because she was the first person with a disability to have a recurring role in a primetime series back then. She garnered widespread recognition and admiration from both critics and the public because of her outstanding portrayal back then. 

Similarly, her character on the show, Geri Tyler, also had cerebral palsy. Her groundbreaking role showcased her acting chops, but it also challenged the norms in the entertainment industry – which was instrumental in getting more actors with disabilities bagging roles in television. 

As a motivational speaker, Jewell has touched countless lives, sharing her experiences to advocate for disability rights, inclusion, and the importance of embracing diversity. Her engaging talks empower audiences and encourage societal change, breaking down barriers for people with disabilities.

Jewell’s journey as an actress has been amazing to witness. She has defied the odds as a disabled person and opened the doors for many. Read on to learn more about Jewell and her very colorful life. 

Geri Jewell (1981), (Ron Wolfson/Michael Ochs Archives via Getty Images)

Jewell grew up along with her supportive family from Buffalo, New York. At a tender age, she had shown passion in performance, specifically in using humor and wit to entertain her family. Thankfully, her parents encouraged her to continue pursuing it, which fostered her confidence later on. 

Notably, Jewell was diagnosed at 18 months old. Her mother, Olga, has spoken about it once in an interview

” It was very devastating. I knew a lot about cerebral palsy, so I knew what I was in for,” she mentioned. 

Growing up, she was treated the same as her siblings, as Jewell’s parents wanted her to become independent. She was even encouraged to eat with a spoon taped to her hand, and her arm sandbagged to steady the shaking. 

In her autobiography, “Geri,” published in 1984, Geri revealed that this kind of mentality has been taught to her since she was young, which was very helpful when she grew up. 

” They thought if I didn’t learn to fight when I was young I wouldn’t when I was older,” she explained. ”Your mind knows what your body is supposed to be doing, but the brain’s message aren’t getting through…. By learning the way your muscles would work if half your brains weren’t on vacation, we can minimize the visible aspects of our disability”.

Speaking to Deseret News, Jewell detailed how her life was different from other teens when she was young. 

“Nobody talked to me about their boyfriends, about what went on after school,” she recalled. Thanks to her drama class in high school, Jewell slowly found an outlet. She was written a role specifically, a 98-year-old Japanese alcoholic woman in “Tea House of the August Moon.” The role was written for her to explain her tremors and slurred words due to her condition.

Geri Jewell (2016), 8Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images Entertainment via Getty Images)

In the 1980s, Jewell was approached by producer Norman Lear after seeing her perform at the Media Access Awards.  

“I got a standing ovation, and I ran into Lear in the elevator,” Jewell later recalled. “He said, ‘You’ll be hearing from me really soon, kid.” Three months later, she was offered the role of Geri Tyler. 

Sadly, she only lasted until 1984 after being fired from the show. Her manager was arrested for embezzlement and securities fraud, leaving her penniless and without professional representation. She recalled the heartbreaking moment in her 1984 memoir, saying: 

“...I had a manager who was a crook. People in my life were manipulating me and taking advantage of me. Then The Facts of Life did not renew my contract. Years later, they offered me one episode during the fifth season, and my new manager, Richard Lippin, who was trying to fix all the previous manager’s mistakes, turned it down.” 

At 67, Jewell has starred in various films and television shows. She had roles in “21 Jump Street,” “The Young and the Restless,” “Deadwood,” and a guest role in “Glee.” 

In her 2011 autobiography, “I’m Walking As Straight As I Can: Transcending Disability in Hollywood and Beyond,” Jewell came out as a lesbian after writing about her 2002 divorce from her husband Richard Pimentel. 

” What’s different today is that I’m centered, not emotionally all over the place, and that allows me to relax more. But in the ’80s, when I was struggling with my sexuality, had a crooked manager who stole all my money, a show that didn’t renew my contract and a book out that I hated, I couldn’t handle it. It amazes me that I even lived through those years. I’m lucky I’m still alive,” she wrote in the memoir.

Geri Jewell (2022), (Joce Zerojack/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images via Getty Images)

Do you remember Geri Jewell? What can you say about her journey as a disabled actress? Isn’t she amazing? Let us know, and pass this on to your family, friends, and other loved ones out there!

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