Will Smith may have lost everything by 19, but he soon snagged the career opportunity of a lifetime, with “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.” On a “Storytime” segment on his YouTube channel, Smith revealed that the show saved him from financial ruin: “Before I was in trouble with Uncle Phil, I was in trouble with Uncle Sam,” he joked. The series was loosely based on the life of industry exec Benny Medina, who approached Smith regarding the lead role when they both appeared on “The Arsenio Hall Show.” Initially, Smith declined, explaining, “I’m not an actor.” But he soon relented and a Fresh Prince was born in 1990.
By this point, Smith’s image was firmly in the mold of the ’90s. With his brightly colored, patterned ensembles and fade cut, his “Fresh Prince” aesthetic remains one of the most defining of the era. Per The Independent, the show was a huge hit, drawing in 20 million viewers a week, and Smith was thus propelled towards TV stardom.
Although the show was generally a positive experience for Smith, there were tensions on set with co-star Janet Hubert, who played the original Aunt Vivian. Accordingly, Hubert was fired, something she still blames Smith for. “I will never do anything with an a**hole like Will Smith,” she told TMZ, adding, “This constant reunion thing will never ever happen… unless there is an apology, which he doesn’t know the word.” (In 2020, Smith apologized to her on “Red Table Talk” and the reunion happened.)