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Fans of Will Smith and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air know the theme song by heart. It encapsulates what the family sitcom is about — a young man who’s mother forces him to live with his “Auntie and Uncle in Bel-Air” after getting into it with “a couple of guys who were up to no good.” 

Ironically, the real “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” wasn’t born and raised in West Philadelphia. Find out who The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air is really about.

Karyn Parsons as Hilary Banks,  Janet Hubert as Vivian Banks, James Avery as Philip Banks, Tatyana Ali as Ashley Banks, Alfonso Ribeiro as Carlton Banks, Joseph Marcell as Geoffrey, Will Smith as William 'Will' Smith 
Karyn Parsons, Janet Hubert, James Avery, Tatyana Ali, Alfonso Ribeir, Joseph Marcell, Will Smith| Chris Haston/NBCU Photo Bank

The family sitcom ‘The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’ premiered in 1990

Aside from The Cosby Show, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air was one of the only shows to explore the dynamics in Black homes and communities. The show followed the upper-middle-class Banks family, which included Uncle Phil (James Avery), Aunt Vivian (Daphne Maxwell Reid), and cousins Hilary (Karyn Parsons), Carlton (Alfonso Ribeiro), and Ashley (Tatyana Ali).

Janet Hubert as Vivian Banks, James Avery as Philip Banks, Tatyana Ali as Ashley Banks, Will Smith as William "Will" Smith
Janet Hubert, James Avery, Tatyana Ali, Will Smith | Alice S. Hall/NBCU Photo Bank

As explained in the theme song, the street-smart teenager Will moved in with the family. Along the way, each character learned a thing or two about themselves thanks to the love, support, and guidance of family.

Will Smith was broke before he did ‘The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’

Before The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Smith had experienced success with his music career. In February 1988, he and DJ Jazzy Jeff were celebrating the release of “Parent’s Just Don’t Understand.” 

“Me and Jeff had come out with a smash hit ‘Parent’s Just Don’t Understand, Smith explained in a YouTube video. “We made a bunch of money, we won a Grammy — the album was triple platinum. I had motorcycles and cars.” 


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Unfortunately, DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince’s success was short-lived. When the second album came out, it didn’t do so well. “[The second release] was a flop — it was a tragedy,” Smith said. “We went like, double plastic.”

Having spent all of his earnings from “Parents Just Don’t Understand,” Smith had no money to pay his taxes. “I didn’t forget [to pay my taxes],” he said. “But I didn’t pay the IRS. In my mind, I wasn’t trying to avoid paying taxes. I was just like ‘Oh, damn, they need their money.’”

Smith’s girlfriend at the time was frustrated by him being broke and having no motivation to succeed. She told him to “go do something — rather, go “where people are doing it.” In her mind, that was The Arsenio Hall Show

‘The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’ is about producer Benny Medina

While Smith had a similar story to tell, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air sitcom is based on Benny Medina. During his visit to The Arsenio Hall Show, Smith met Medina, the Vice President of Artist and Repertoire division of Warner Brothers at the time.

“Benny Medina is the real-life Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” Smith admitted. “He actually went from Watts [California] to Beverly Hills. Same basic concept, way shorter distance.” 

Ironically, Smith was less than interested when Medina pitched him the idea for the show. “I’m not an actor,” he remembered saying. “[Benny] said, ‘Hey, I want you to meet Quincy Jones. Quincy Jones is going to produce [the show] with me.'” 

That fateful December in 1989, Medina wanted Smith to audition for the show after 10 minutes of reviewing the script. Stressed beyond belief, Smith asked for more time. Medina admitted he could push the meeting back, but he encouraged Smith to instead “take 10 minutes and change [his] life forever.” 

“I said yes, and I let it rip,” Smith recalled. After his audition, lawyers drew up a contract in a limousine outside. The rest is history! Smith went on to tell Medina’s tale in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.