Though it was a classic fish out of water story based in part on the real-life experiences of CEO Benny Medina, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air didn’t have the typical template for a successful television sitcom. With a young, popular rap artist in a lead role that was a fictionalized version of himself, the story followed teenager Will Smith from the streets of Philadelphia to the expensive homes of Bel-Air, Los Angeles.
Though it was not an out-of-the-gate success, the series ran for six seasons, placing in the top 25 show ratings for its first four years. More than that, though, it proved that mainstream television audiences were excited for, and supportive of, network shows with all-black casts, and that the hip-hop elements were a draw for audiences rather than a detriment.
The series started a few film and television careers, and continued several others. In the 27 years since its premiere, the series has left an indelible mark on the television landscape. Some of the performers are still household names, while others went on to interesting careers outside the television arena. However, one thing is certain: they’ll never be forgotten for their roles on this series.
Here is Where Are They Now? The Cast Of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.
15. Janet Hubert
Though she had a few roles on 21 Jump Street and Reasonable Doubts (and a fun appearance in an episode of Tales from the Crypt), Aunt Vivian was truly Janet Hubert’s breakout role, and Hubert was fiercely protective but funny in the role.
All was not well behind the scenes, however; Hubert had a famous feud with series star Will Smith that eventually led to her being replaced by Daphne Reid for the final three seasons of the series, and she was not happy about it. She had memorable roles after departing the series, including a funny turn on Gilmore Girls and a recurring role on One Life to Live, but never one as popular as Aunt Vivian.
She did revisit The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air in 2009 when she published a memoir about her life: Perfection Is Not a Sitcom Mom. In it, she talked about the infighting and what she considered to be a betrayal of the cast that led to the rift between her and Smith. She can be heard as another aunt in a famous franchise, Grand Theft Auto 5, and can be seen in the TV series Ward of the State.
14. Alfonso Ribeiro
Already a known television commodity after his run on Silver Spoons, Alfonso Ribeiro became a legend and the stuff of memes when he created “The Carlton,” a dance move named after his pompous but hilarious character.
He followed up one popular sitcom by starring as a rapper with another one, coining LL Cool J on the series In the House, and competed on both the UK version of I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here and Dancing with the Stars, the latter of which he won.
He’s also found success behind the camera, directing episodes of Are We There Yet and Meet the Browns, but his greatest skill might be his real-life personality. He has been the host of Good Morning America, Catch 21, the Food Network series Unwrapped, and he replaced Tom Bergeron on America’s Funniest Home Videos.
13. DJ Jazzy Jeff
When a sitcom stars Will Smith, rap’s “Fresh Prince,” it is almost a foregone conclusion that his musical collaborator DJ Jazzy Jeff would also make an appearance. Jeff similarly plays a fictional version of himself in the show called Jazz, though his persona is much more comedic in nature– he spent a good deal of his screen time being tossed out the front door by Uncle Phil.
While no one would rush to accuse DJ Jazzy Jeff of being a brilliant actor, he was definitely a sought-after musician, producer, and DJ. His production company, A Touch of Jazz, was integral in finding and developing Eminem, Jewel, Darius Rucker, and The Roots.
He released The Return of the Magnificent in 2007, a well-received album in which he collaborated with Method Man and Bid Daddy Kane among others. His summer mix tape, produced with DJ friend Mick, has been a yearly staple since 2010. Most recently, his scratch overdubbing can be heard in the Oscar-nominated Straight Outta Compton.
12. Daphne Reid
While appearing with actor Tim Reid on WKRP in Cincinnati, Daphne Maxwell married Tim and became Daphne Reid. The two worked together several times, including on Simon & Simon and Frank’s Place, before Reid was chosen to replace Janet Hubert in the role of Aunt Vivian on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.
After a pleasant three-year run, Reid followed up the series by co-producing films with her husband, such as For Real and Paul Mooney: Analyzing White America. She was even second unit director on the excellent film adaptation of the book Once Upon a Time… When We Were Colored, which was director by her husband.
She popped up in recurring roles on Eve (starring the titular rapper) and BET’s Let’s Stay Together. She was co-owner and operator of New Millennium Studios with husband Tim, and she can be seen most recently in the religious comedy By the Grace of Bob.
11. Joseph Marcell
Wonder no more: the erudite accent of the dryly humorous butler Geoffrey in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air was not a put-on. Though born on the Caribbean island nation of Saint Lucia, Joseph Marcell moved to the UK when he was still a boy.
He was a celebrated member of the Royal Shakespeare Company and played some of the Bard’s greatest characters. He had already appeared in Richard Attenborough’s Cry Freedom and BBC’s Doctor Who, before landing the gig as Geoffrey and traveling stateside.
He stuck around for the full six-year run of the series, but when it was over, Joseph juggled performances both stateside and across the pond. He had a run on the American soap opera The Bold and the Beautiful, as well as the long-running British television staple EastEnders, and appeared with two other rappers on sitcoms with roles on In the House and Living Single.
10. Brian Stokes Mitchell
In his brief but memorable role as Hilary’s love interest Trevor, Brian Stoke Mitchell made quite an impact in more ways than one. His character proposed to Hilary while he was bungee jumping, but it went wrong and he never… well, bounced back.
Trevor’s death was a darkly humorous moment that is well-remembered for the series, and it came about because Mitchell’s Broadway career was just taking off. He became a multiple Tony nominee for Ragtime, Man of La Mancha, King Hedley II, and won a Tony for his performance in Kiss Me Kate.
Though his television work slowed down, it never stopped, with him making regular guest appearances on Frasier, Crossing Jordan, and a role as Lea Michele’s fathers on Glee. Recently, he had a guest role on The Blacklist, and he has secured supporting roles on two of Peak TV’s most intriguing series: as the CTO of Evil Corp on Mr. Robot, and as Bill, one of the Meyerists on Hulu’s brilliant religious thriller series The Path.
9. Vernee Watson
Vernee Watson has been a veritable staple of television since the 1970s, well before she played Will Smith’s mom on Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. An early breakout performance from her on Welcome Back Kotter led to continued appearances on Fantasy Island, The Love Boat, and Baby Talk.
After her work on Fresh Prince, she never slowed down, with a recurring role on Sister Sister, voice work on Animaniacs and Batman Beyond, and continuing roles on soap operas like The Young and the Restless, Days of Our Lives, and General Hospital.
She has nearly uncountable guest spots on prominent series like The X-Files, Mike and Molly, The Odd Couple, House, and Castle. As she did with Aaron Spelling on The Love Boat and Fantasy Island, Watson developed a good working relationship with TV producer Chuck Lorre, which led to recurring roles on both Two and a Half Men and The Big Bang Theory.
8. Jenifer Lewis
Jenifer Lewis has the distinction of becoming popular with viewing audiences for two roles simultaneously, playing Dean Dorothy Dandridge Davenport on A Different World and the memorably unique Aunt Helen on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.
Once audiences knew her, they started seeing her everywhere. From guest appearances on lauded family shows like Touched by an Angel and Promised Land to small roles in big films like Mystery Men and Cast Away, Lewis popped up any direction you looked.
Voice performances in The PJs and the Pixar film Cars led to a prolific career in animation, working in The Princess and the Frog, The Cleveland Show, and The Boondocks. She also had a recurring role on Tyler Perry’s Meet the Browns, and returned to voice Flo in both sequels to Cars.
Most recently, Lewis can be seen as the outspoken grandma Ruth on ABC’s hit series Black-ish, a sitcom whose tone and primarily black lead cast owe a lot to the groundbreaking work that The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air did over twenty years earlier.
7. Ross Bagley
Young Ross Bagley was a latecomer to the cast of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, only joining the show in season four. However, in his short career, he already had some impressive credits before he got the gig.
Bagley was the voice of Puppy in the Oscar-nominated film Babe, and he played the iconic role of Buckwheat in the 1994 big-screen adaptation of the classic television series The Little Rascals. After working with Will Smith for two seasons on the show, Bagley joined Smith as his on-screen son in the blockbuster action film Independence Day (though he was replaced in the grown-up role in Independence Day: Resurgence).
After a few appearances on television series like Profiler, Providence, Judging Amy, and some voice work on The Wild Thornberrys, Bagley took a break from acting. However, he returned to the screen in 2015 for a one-two punch of horror films, appearing in both Gnome Alone and Dead Ringer.
6. James Avery
Before appearing as the beloved Uncle Phil on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, James Avery was already balancing television success in both the live-action and animated arenas. He juggled recurring roles on Hill Street Blues and Beauty and the Beast, along with vocal performances in SuperFriends, Rock ‘n Wrestling, and the animated Rambo.
He had higher profile runs on Amen and L.A. Law, leading eventually to the central patriarch of the wealthy Banks family. He continued to do voice performances for highly popular series like Iron Man, Aladdin, and most notably, as the villain Shredder on the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
After the end of Fresh Prince, Avery headlined Sparks, a legal family series in which he starred alongside a young Terrence Howard, and he was the voice of the children’s horror author R.L. Stine in the beloved but short-lived series The Nightmare Room.
He sadly passed away in 2013, but not before giving us a few more memorable performances in The Closer, That ‘70s Show, and Star Trek: Enterprise.
5. Karyn Parsons
Karyn Parsons had already appeared in small roles in Hunter and CBS Summer Playhouse when she was cast as the sweet but vapid Hilary in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. The performance was an immediate audience favorite, and the show’s popularity led to big-screen opportunities for her.
During the run of the series, she also appeared in Class Act and starred opposite Damon Wayans in Major Payne. She also appeared on two other TV series as her character Hilary, popping up on Blossom and Out All Night.
After the series ended, she moved immediately into another series, this time also acting as producer and co-creator. Though well-reviewed, Lush Life never found an audience and was cancelled before a full season was produced. She appeared in the Saturday Night Live spinoff The Ladies Man and in 2002, she worked in 13 Moons from director Alexandre Rockwell, who she later married.
4. Nia Long
As Lisa, the girl who won Will’s heart and nearly married him (twice!), Nia Long made a big jump from her smaller performances in films like Boyz n the Hood and Buried Alive and a guest shot on Living Single. Her star rose quickly, in part because she appeared in the surprise hit Friday the same year she won the role on the series.
She went on to big-screen success in dramas like Love Jones and Soul Food as well as thrillers like Stigmata and Boiler Room. She shifted easily into comedy for two franchises, Big Momma’s House and Are We There Yet?
She had a run on the Showtime series House of Lies and joined Mike Epps for his television remake of Uncle Buck. Long is currently appearing in THREE different series on three venues: she’s was a regular on Amazon’s Hand of God, appeared in multiple episodes of Netflix’s Dear White People, and is a supporting performer on one of the most popular current network series Empire.
3. Tyra Banks
There was a time when Tyra Banks was more well-known for her modeling work than her television work, and that time was 1993, when she first appeared on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air as Will’s friend Jackie. However, her modeling career ran all the way back to when she was sixteen, and she had already appeared in music videos with Michael Jackson and Tina Turner.
After her season-long arc on Fresh Prince, she appeared in her first feature film, Higher Learning, which would lead to other film performances like Coyote Ugly and Halloween: Resurrection. She also played a doll come to life in the Disney made-for-TV movie Life-Size, soon to have a sequel.
She is perhaps most well-known for her original series America’s Next Top Model. It was a ratings hit, premiering in 2003 and still running today. The popularity of the show led to her daytime series The Tyra Banks Show, her series FabLife, and the many spinoffs of the series in other countries.
2. Tatyana M. Ali
While not an unknown, Tatyana Ali had mostly appeared in small roles on series like The Cosby Show and A Man Called Hawk, as well as regular appearances on Sesame Street, before being cast as Ashley Banks in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. After the series ended, Ali went on to a successful musical career, even teaming with Will Smith on one of her albums and her appearing on Willennium.
She did not stop acting, however, working as both actress and producer on the shows Buppies and Love That Girl! She also appeared on BET’s comedy series Second Generation Wayans. Her longest run on a series post-Fresh Prince was when she played Roxanne on The Young and the Restless.
Along with a series of feature and made-for-TV movies like The Good Nanny, November Rule, and Nora’s Hair Salon, Ali will be returning to TV and reteaming with her Fresh Prince co-star Karyn Parsons for Fly, a series about the first all-black female flight crew.
Will Smith? Never heard of him.
Seriously, Will Smith was already incredibly famous when he starred as the titular character on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. He smartly diversified his career, making daring films like Six Degrees of Separation and action blockbusters like Bad Boys.
By the time he left the series, he was primed to be a huge star, something he embraced immediately with Independence Day. He followed that up with Men in Black and Enemy of the State, both successful films and one of which led to a lucrative franchise. Though he has had occasional downturns critically and financially, like Wild Wild West and After Earth, he always rebounds with something that revitalizes him.
Sometimes, it’s an Oscar nomination, as is the cases of Ali and The Pursuit of Happyness, while other times it’s by producing films like The Karate Kid (which helped introduce audiences to his talented son, Jaden). One thing is sure: with his role in Suicide Squad a definite hit, Will Smith will remain a big star for some time to come.
Who was your favorite The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air character? Let us know in the comment section!
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