Almost 30 years ago, the world fell in love with Will Smith on the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, but it never would have happened had the Philly native just paid his taxes.
As Smith recently recounted on his popular YouTube channel, his path to the Fresh Prince began after he and DJ Jazzy Jeff had their first hit with “Parents Just Don’t Understand” in 1988. Though, from West Philadelphia born and raised, Smith didn’t take long to blow through most of his pay.
“Before I was getting in trouble with Uncle Phil, I was in trouble with Uncle Sam,” Smith said. “Being famous and broke is a s— combination, ’cause you still famous and people recognize you but they recognize you while you’re sitting next to them on the bus.”
Smith neglected to pay his taxes. The IRS responded by repossessing items like cars and motorcycles from Smith, leaving him “broke, broke, broke,” as he said in his video.
The situation got worse with the release of And in This Corner… in 1989. While the album received two Grammy nominations, it was considered a commercial flop, and sold just 500,000 copies compared to He’s the DJ, I’m the Rapper’s three million copies, XXL reports.
Smith’s girlfriend at the time suggested he hang around The Arsenio Hall Show studio on the Paramount Studio lot to try and get a deal to help with his tax problem. While the plan was far-fetched, Smith says it worked thanks to producer Quincy Jones, who invited the Philly native to his home to discuss a show that would become The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.
Smith later auditioned for Jones and former NBC president Brandon Tartikoff, who approved of Smith’s performance. Lawyers, Smith added, went out to a limousine following the audition to draw up a contract for Fresh Prince. Three months later, he said, work on the show’s pilot was underway.
“So, the moral of the story is always say ‘yes,’” Smith said. “And, I guess, listen to your girlfriend.”
The series ultimately ran from 1990 to 1996 on NBC. Today, fans a clamoring for a Fresh Prince reboot, to which Smith has historically been opposed. However, a Fresh Princess reboot may be in the works.