The famous actress who literally changed the face of television in the 1980s

I remember watching The Facts of Life as a child all the time.
The iconic 80’s sitcom and drama was always entertaining and left an impression on me and audiences everywhere well into adulthood

There weren’t many shows back then that lasted close to 10 years, but the Different Strokes spinoff was one of them and with good reason.

Many of the show’s characters and plot lines are still loved today.

But there’s one character in particular who really stands out to fans

Watching the reruns of The Facts of Life still brings back so many wonderful childhood memories. The show began in 1979 and was immediately popular.

It focused on Edna Garrett, a housemother at an all-girls boarding school in New York. Viewers watched Edna guide the girls through their ups and downs as she navigated her own life.

While Charlotte Rae, an experienced actress, played Edna, there was a recurring side character that still inspires viewers everywhere.

Geri Jewell played a recurring side role during the show: Geri Tyler. The fictional Geri was a cousin of Blair, one of the girls on the show. Other than being remembered for her wit and cleverness, the character was also groundbreaking – Geri Jewell was the first actress on television with a physical disability: cerebral palsy

Even today, many agree that Geri’s cerebral palsy was represented realistically. It was likely helpful that Geri Jewell, the actress playing the role, also suffered from the condition in real life.

According to Mental Floss, Jewell was actually approached by showrunner Norman Lear before The Facts of Life was ever on television. After performing a stand-up comedy routine, Lear came up to Jewell.

Jewell explained:

“I got a standing ovation, and I ran into Norman in the elevator. He said, ‘You’ll be hearing from me really soon, kid.’ Three months later, he called me with the ‘Cousin Geri’ episode [in season two].”

With a role written especially for her, Jewell was able to represent her own condition and represent handicapped people everywhere. As mentioned, the role of Geri was actually the first time a recurring disabled person was featured on primetime television.

Geri was born on 13 September 1956 in Buffalo, New York, USA. Sadly, Geri’s mother was involved in a car accident while pregnant with Geri, which resulted in her being born three months early. At eighteen months old, she was diagnosed with cerebral palsy.

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