An actress with a disability often finds a difficult challenge finding roles to play in Hollywood these days. Thirty years ago, Geri Jewell made history by becoming the first actress with a disability to land a regular role on a hit television series.
Originally from Buffalo, NY, Geri is most famous for her role on the television program The Facts of Life which aired from 1980 to 1984. She played “Cousin Geri” for 12 memorable episodes, making her the first actor with cerebral palsy to win a primetime television show.
Since then, Geri has appeared in numerous reunion shows over the years, and remains close with all of the cast members. She even accepted the TV Land Pop Culture award in 2011.
After her famous ground-breaking role, Geri continued her stand-up comedy acts and continued working as an actress. In 2004 she landed a 9 episode arc on The Young and the Restless as Rose, and also began a three season run on the critically acclaimed HBO show Deadwood. When creator David Milch recognized Geri at a pharmacy, he offered her a role in his HBO series right on the spot.
Geri enjoys a thriving career. She has been the recipient of many awards, including the 1992 Founders Award, the 2005 Independent Living Legacy Award, and the 2006 Victory award. Her autobiography, I’m Walking as Straight as I Can, received the 2012 Gold Award by the Independent Publishers. She also received the 2013 Golden Halo Award, and the 2013 UCP Life Without Limits Award.
Her autobiography, I’m Walking as Straight as I Can, was published in 2011 by ECW Press. She worked hard to give a rare and raw glimpse into the pitfalls of Hollywood.
Born with cerebral palsy, Geri Jewell inspired a generation of young people when she became the first person with a disability to appear in a recurring role on prime-time television, with her groundbreaking character, Cousin Geri, on the NBC sitcom The Facts of Life. The book’s title — I’m Walking As Straight As I Can — has a double meaning, referring to both Jewell’s sexuality and her extraordinary struggle growing up with cerebral palsy. This candid memoir details her experiences from her traumatic birth in Buffalo, New York, to her rise to stardom as a stand-up comic to becoming a television star. She documents the harsh realities of show business by recounting the relentless discrimination and abuse she suffered at the hands of people she trusted. Her experiences in the shark-infested waters of Hollywood led her on a journey from theComedy Store to the White House, followed by a downward spiral, tax problems, drug addiction, marriage, and an accident that nearly claimed her life. I’m Walking As Straight As I Can is an inspiring story, told with grace and self-deprecating humor, one that gives readers a rare glimpse of true courage and perseverance. – Barnes and Noble over view..
When Geri is not working on television, she is a highly-sought after motivational speaker and trainer in the areas of diversity, disability and GLBT issues. Her training has taken her to such companies as Hewlett Packard, Master Foods, Johnson Wax, AT&T, Amgen, Mass Mutual and Raytheon. She has also trained such government agencies as C.I.A., U.S. Treasury, Defense Intelligence Agency, and the U.S. Army. She works tirelessly to promote disability awareness and acceptance.
“I get booked for events, but I would love to be booked more,” she told us.
Geri has truly turned a disability into a dream, and has inspired a generation. Well done, a true Jewell. Follow her journey on her official website here.