With a theme song that’s guaranteed to come up at every karaoke night, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air merged light-hearted humor with the occasional deeply resonating life lesson. (If this scene didn’t make you want to cry, go find a doctor or a priest and have a long talk because you may have something important missing.)
The Will Smith-starring six-season series came to an end 20 years ago on Friday with that final shot of an empty living room as Will said goodbye to the family and his home. At this point, I doubt you’re unaware of what Smith has been up to, and we all took a moment to mourn a favorite TV father figure when James Avery died, but there are still 10 other cast members whose careers have taken interesting turns, so let’s take a look at what The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air cast is up to now.
Updated May 20, 2016
As I alluded to, Will Smith has been everywhere in Hollywood these past 20 years. He’s fought aliens in Independence Day and the Men in Black movies. He’s been a cop that takes down both drug lords and malfunctioning robots. And he’s been nominated for two Academy Awards for Best Actor for his work in Ali and The Pursuit of Happyness. At the end of the day, he’s currently the highest-grossing actor in the world.
He’s even done some work as a producer alongside his wife, Jada Pinkett-Smith. And I’m not talking about raising their kids, Willow and Jaden.
“First things first. Rest in peace, Uncle Phil. For real.” – J. Cole “No Role Modelz”
While portraying Wills’ uncle/surrogate father Phillip Banks, Avery was a role model for a lot of people who watched Fresh Prince. Which made his death in 2013 even more heartbreaking. Uncle Phil was always looked at as a character who you could depend on to guide you in moral dilemmas, which was appropriate given that he would go on to become a member of the legal system in, not only Fresh Prince, but over a dozen other roles in his career.
Avery put in some serious work over the years and chances are he’s shown up in your favorite sitcom, at least once. Before his death, his last role was in the Zach Braff-directed Wish I Was Here.
Not many television recastings were as blatant and in-your-face as the departure of Janet Hubert as Vivian Banks after the third season of Fresh Prince. For the first three seasons, Hubert was the matriarch of the show and actually got a few episodes centered around her – like when she decided to take up dancing after years of being inactive.
Since leaving Fresh Prince, Hubert has made appearances on a handful of television shows, but her most interesting role may have been her voice acting work as Aunt Denise in Grand Theft Auto V. Hubert was most recently in the news in January when she reacted to Jada Pinkett-Smith’s talk about boycotting the Oscars, and had words for Smith.
Daphne Maxwell Reid
With Janet Hubert gone, someone had to fill the role of Vivian Banks. In hindsight, this was a lot better than writing the character out of the show somehow, which would’ve sent the series in an entirely different direction.
Daphne Maxwell Reid went on to make appearances in Let’s Stay Together, Eve, and Sister, Sister, beside her husband Tim Reid, who she co-starred with in 2016’s Shooting the Prodigal.
Even though Hilary was the oldest of the Banks children, she didn’t act like it too often. But, nonetheless, fans enjoyed her role in the series and felt for her when her fiancé bungee jumped to his doom later in the series. If I’m being honest, Karyn Parsons’ portrayal of Hilary Banks was one of the main reasons I tuned into Fresh Prince as much as I did. If I’m being even more honest, it may have also played a role into a lot of my dating choices since then.
Parsons hasn’t had an acting credit since she played Denis Leary’s mistress on The Job in 2002. She’s remained active in other ways, though, by founding an organization called Sweet Blackberry, which tells children-friendly stories about African-American history. You may also remember her role as Emily Walburn in Major Payne.
With his trademark dance moves, love of Tom Jones, William Shatner, and difficulty keeping up with his “cool” cousin Will, Carlton Banks (Alfonso Ribeiro) was a second favorite character on the show for many. Ribeiro’s career has seen its handful of peaks. He even got to star in a Pepsi commercial alongside Michael Jackson as a kid. Then he got on Fresh Prince and often stole the show. In 2015, Ribeiro won Dancing with the Stars while calling back some of those classic dance moves.
After a career renaissance was triggered by “The Carlton” dance move, Ribeiro booked a gig as the new host of America’s Funniest Home Videos. He also got Justin Timberlake to do “The Carlton” with him at a celebrity golf tournament after a bad swing. It’s also worth noting that Ribeiro has built up a pretty respectable side-career as a sitcom director over the years.
Are you ready to feel old? Tatyana Ali is 37 years old. I repeat, little, adorable Ashley Banks is well into her 30s. Since Fresh Prince ended in 1996, Ali has remained bust, popping up in movies like Glory Road and The Brothers, as well as in an episode of Key & Peele in 2015. Ali also had a lengthy presence on The Young and the Restless and is set to co-star in The Reason in 2016.
If you remember her character’s story on Fresh Prince and her run-up the pop charts in the late ’90s, you won’t be surprised to find out that Ali has continued her singing career, releasing an EP titled Hello in 2015.
If Ashley Banks being in her 30s didn’t make you wonder where all the time went, you’re not in the clear just yet. Ross Bagley, known for playing Nicholas Banks, is now 27.
Thus far, the highlights of his acting career have mostly been alongside Will Smith, with the other being in Independence Day. He’s still working though! He had a role in a horror movie called Gnome Alone. No, it isn’t a spoof of the Macaulay Culkin movie (no matter how much I wish it was). It’s a horror film that stars Verne Troyer as a murderous lawn gnome.
Geoffrey Butler, the Banks’ butler, grew from being a live-in employee to a beloved part of the family who was there for the most important moments. As a matter of fact, he’s the first person you see in the pilot as he answers the door for Will. While his character was most often on the periphery of scenes, Joseph Marcell has gone on to consistently pick up supporting roles in both British and American productions such as Caesar and That Samba Thang.
Jeffrey A. Townes (a.k.a. DJ Jazzy Jeff)
Before he was the star of a hit television series and the highest grossing actor in the world, Will Smith was a rapper. And, in the 1980’s, every good rapper had to have a DJ. Working as one half of DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince, Townes was part of a multi-platinum album-selling effort and was then brought along to The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air as Jazz, Will’s best friend who was obsessed with Hillary.
Today, Townes still DJ’s, produces music and makes somewhat regular appearances on talk shows alongside Will, like when they took over The Graham Norton Show.
During The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Will spent a lot of his time chasing one love interest after another. But that came to a screeching halt after he met Lisa (Nia Long). Unfortunately, things took a rather weird turn and they ended up as step-siblings instead of spouses by the end of it all.
But Nia Long still went on to have a strong career as the leading lady in a lot of movies, such as Love Jones, The Best Man, Big Momma’s House and Are We There Yet? Her next film project will be The Best Man Wedding. Long is also set to co-star in the Uncle Buck TV series opposite Mike Epps.