Man do I love The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.
I haven’t quite relegated it to my brain basement with the rest of my childhood memories. No, I still sing the theme song in the shower and watch episodes on television whenever I can catch them.
Part of the show’s magic to me relied on how well cast it was. The characters were eccentric, elaborate and lovable despite the fact that they lived in a crazy big mansion and were often oblivious to how privileged they were. Hilary was shopping all the time! Is Carlton whining again?? Ashley was the instabestfriend I hadn’t met yet and oh, Jeffery! Jeffery was hilarious with his spot-on dry humor and he was also so strong! There he goes throwing Jazz out the window again!
I wanted to grow up to be Will. He was a good kid with a big heart, determined to figure things out on his own terms despite being forced out of his element. Aunt Viv was cool but her character always confused me (she was played by two actresses in a show that otherwise maintained character consistency in its 6 seasons on air) and of course there was Uncle Phil.
Parents just don’t understand!
Despite being short-tempered and full of lectures, he was truly looking out for his family’s best interest. He worked hard to earn for his family and yet he was always there to listen and lecture and laugh and dance with them. He was more than his job, and while he took Will into his home reluctantly; with time he came to love him as his own.
The development of their relationship was a testament to the acting chops of Will Smith and James Avery– and yet it was also a reflection of what was going on behind the scenes. Life long friendships were formed on that show.
Do you remember when Carlton, played by Alfonso Ribeiro, made a cameo as a cowboy extra in Will Smith’s Wild Wild West music video? How about how Will was 100% behind Tatyana Ali‘s leap into the music industry following the show’s end? They all stayed friends decades after the last episode aired.
Smith shared a photo of the cast reuniting outside a charity event as recently as 2011 and he spent this New Years Eve alongside DJ Jazzy Jeff (his Fresh Prince best friend both on and off screen) in Dubai.
Also this happened and the Internet nearly exploded!!
You see the folks of the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air really and truly developed a family on that sound stage. As an avid viewer of the show, it was hard not to feel like whether they knew me or not I was part of that family, too.
When I heard that James Avery passed away yesterday at 68 years young I was, and remain, sad beyond words.
Joseph Marcell, who played the Banks’ family butler Jeffry had this to say on CNN about Avery’s long standing impact:
It was important to him that people understood that the striving of the African American ought to have been shown on television and that this was the moment, this is the moment, and he was happy with it and he strove to present an Uncle Phil that is lovable, that everybody wishes was there Uncle but who was very good at what he did. He was a marvelous man and a truly wonderful actor and what he has done for television, for African Americans on television is unsurpassable really.
We loved each other…and today is the day where we celebrate our life as one of our special ones.
Below is a special scene from a truly remarkable television program.
We’ll miss you, Uncle Phil.