How Many Times Has ‘Family Matters’ and ‘Die Hard’ Star Reginald VelJohnson Played a Cop?

In Hollywood, an actor sometimes becomes so associated with one specific kind of role that they’re rarely cast as anything else. This has been the case for Reginald VelJohnson, who is best known for portraying a cop in both the Die Hard franchise and the hit sitcom Family Matters. What other projects has this extended to?

Reginald VelJohnson starred in ‘Die Hard’ as an LAPD cop

VelJohnson’s breakout film role came with the 1988 summer blockbuster Die Hard. In the movie, Bruce Willis portrays John McClane, an NYPD detective who travels across the country to see his estranged wife for the holidays. At her company party on Christmas Eve, terrorists take over the building.

As he fights Hans Gruber and his men, McClane’s only contact with the outside world is the LAPD’s Sergeant Al Powell (VelJohnson). While the SWAT team and the FBI make mistakes, Powell and McClane remain in contact, eventually saving the hostages. At the end of the movie, the two men embrace.

He then played Carl Winslow on ‘Family Matters’ 

Jaleel White as Steve Urkel and Reginald VelJohnson as Carl Winslow in 'Family Matters'
Jaleel White as Steve Urkel and Reginald VelJohnson as Carl Winslow in ‘Family Matters’ | Walt Disney Television via Getty Images Photo Archives

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Months after Die Hard debuted, VelJohnson once again played an officer of the law. A January 1989 episode of the sitcom, Perfect Strangers introduced him as Carl Winslow, a Chicago cop. The episode acted as a backdoor pilot for a new series revolving around Carl and Jo Marie Payton’s HarrietteFamily Matters.

The spinoff premiered in September 1989 as part of ABC’s TGIF lineup. While the focus largely shifted from the Winslows to their interactions with their next-door neighbor, Steve Urkel, VelJohnson remained Family Matters through its conclusion in season 9 (which saw the show move from ABC to CBS).

VelJohnson is OK with being typecast

Reginald VelJohnson
Reginald VelJohnson | Tommaso Boddi/WireImage

By the time Family Matters ended in 1998, VelJohnson had spent a decade of his career portraying a police officer. While many in Hollywood might be upset to be what’s referred to as typecast (meaning they’re called upon to play the same kind of character repeatedly), this actor doesn’t feel that way.

“I don’t know what it is about me and this cop thing, but I get a lot of cop offers,” VelJohnson told the Hollywood Reporter in 2015. And he doesn’t even mind that it means he’s mistaken for a police officer. “Everyone always assumes that I’m someone on the force, but as long as they are paying me, I will play a cop until the day I die,” he added.

Did he portray a police officer in anything else?

Reginald VelJohnson in 'Girl Meets World'
Reginald VelJohnson in ‘Girl Meets World’ | Eric McCandless/Disney Channel via Getty Images

Though it earned him notoriety, Die Hard wasn’t even VelJohnson’s first cop role. His second-ever film gig was in the hit 1984 movie Ghostbusters, in which he played the small part of Corrections Officer. He then played Captain Graff in 1988’s Plain Clothes, followed by Detective Dave Sutton in 1989’s Turner & Hooch.

After Family Matters, VelJohnson as a cop became so part of pop culture that he played one in an episode of Girl Meets World. Additionally, he not only reprised his role as Agent Powell in 1990’s Die Hard 2 but in episodes of the shows Chuck and Family Guy that paid homage to the original movie.