16 'Fresh Prince' Actors Who Ended Up Becoming Super Famous, Including Everyone's Favorite 'This Is Us' Star
We all know the story all about how one young man's life got flipped-turned upside down... no, not the Fresh Prince, but the guy who played him, Will Smith. Originally known for his charming, danceable music, Smith used The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air to morph from lovable musical goofball to Hollywood superstar. Smith wasn't the only actor that Fresh Prince helped on his or her way to stardom, though, as these 16 Fresh Prince actors ended up becoming huge stars after turning up in Bel-Air.
Just like Smith, Queen Latifah and Vanessa Williams already had established music careers before coming on TV, but Fresh Prince was a stepping stone on the path to entirely new careers for both of them. Others came straight out of nowhere; who would've noticed (or expected) Milo Ventimiglia to show up in the fancy manse as a random party guest at a blowout hosted by Ashley? Some stars on this list, meanwhile, are better known for their voices, not their faces, so you probably missed them the first time around. So while you may not have recognized them at the time, if you dip back in to the adventures of the Banks clan, you'll definitely notice these stars now.
1. Tyra Banks (Jackie Ames)
America's Next Top Model host Tyra Banks was already a model and had worked all over Europe when she appeared as Will's childhood friend and former girlfriend from West Philadelphia, Jackie. Four years later, she made history as the first black woman on the cover of Sports Illustrated's swimsuit issue, and officially became the supermodel we know today.
2. Queen Latifah (Marissa Redman/Dee Dee)
With her first album All Hail The Queen released two years earlier, Queen Latifah was already a star in the music scene. The Queen made not one, but two appearances on Fresh Prince in 1991, as bossy actress Marissa Redman, and later as Will's less-than-perfect-match blind date Dee Dee.
3. Don Cheadle (Ice Tray)
An immensely respected actor with a sense of humor (remember him as Captain Planet?), Cheadle had a few film roles before showing up in Bel-Air as Will's friend from the old neighborhood Ice Tray. His acting career picked up in 1995 with Devil In A Blue Dress, and the rest is history.
4. Naomi Campbell (Helen Carter)
Supermodel Campbell was just about to hit her career apex when she showed up on Fresh Prince, being declared "the reigning megamodel" by Interview just a few months earlier before making an appearance as Geoffrey's blind date.
5. Vivica A. Fox (Janet)
At the time she played the bossy sister of Jazz with a big crush on Will, Vivica Fox was taking small television roles all over. Later, she'd hit it big in Hollywood by co-starring as Smith's girlfriend in blockbuster film Independence Day.
6. Hank Azaria (Policeman)
The now-famous actor and voice of half The Simpsons characters has a pretty good sense of humor about his minor role before he hit it big in Hollywood.
7. Stacey Dash (Michelle Michaels)
Just a year before Clueless came out, Dash played a pop superstar who wanted nothing more than a casual fling with Will, who fell harder than he expected.
8. Kathy Griffin (Susan Klein)
D-List and awards-show host Kathy Griffin was stirring up controversy even in early her appearance as a muck-raking reporter dishing on the stories of Uncle Phil's country upbringing.
9. Vanessa Williams (Danny Mitchell)
Williams already had two careers under her belt before dipping her toe in television. The former Miss America had put scandal behind her to become a successful singer, but her turn on Fresh Prince as a pregnant woman Will helps give birth was the start of her third act as a TV star.
10. Chris Rock (Maurice/Jasmine Perry)
As he was just coming off In Living Color, it would take a couple more years for Rock to hit Hollywood and establish himself as a king of comedy. He did double duty on Fresh Prince playing a famous star... and his younger sister Will's forced to take on a date.
11. Milo Ventimiglia (Party Guest #1)
This is the last one anyone would guess, but before Gilmore Girls and well before Heroes, Milo was studying at UCLA and landed a speaking part as a hard-partying guest.
12. Nia Long (Lisa Wilkes)
Long had been in Boyz In The Hood and on soap opera Guiding Light before appearing as Will's girlfriend on Fresh Prince. But it was only afterwards that she started making regular film appearances, and she now stars on NCIS.
13. Pam Grier (Janice)
The woman who plays Foxy Brown had an entire career in '70s blaxploitation films before showing up as Uncle Phil's college girlfriend. But her second wave of fame, kicked off with Jackie Brown and regular television roles on The L Word, was still a few years away.
14. Raven Symoné (Claudia Watson)
Already an old pro after starring on The Cosby Show, Raven had an appearance as Will's potential step-sister that was only the start of a long television career to come.
15. Brad Garrett (John "Fingers" O'Neill)
Two years before breaking through as brother on Everyone Loves Raymond, Garret showed up as a heavy threatening Will at work.
15. Cree Summer (Lisa Adams)
You may not recognize her face, but her voice is famous. Cree Summer played Will's sweet girlfriend on Fresh Prince, but later she would become the voice of numerous cartoon and video game characters including Elmyra from Tiny Toons and Pinky And The Brain, and several characters in Mass Effect, Batman: Arkham Asylum, and the Final Fantasy series.
We all know the show launched Smith to Hollywood fame, but it's nice to spot some unexpected faces among the Fresh Prince's friends and family.