It was the scene that changed everything
The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air was one of the most ingenious shows of all time (that's my own opinion, but trust me... many people agree). It filled the 90s with a brilliant cocktail of silliness, goofy dancing, brilliant characters, and a complex look into the lives of a mixed family.
And upon occasion, the show. got. real. And when it did, it brought the whole house down.
Perhaps the most famous and beloved example of this can be found in the episode ‘Papa’s Got A Brand New Excuse’, in 1994.
In the episode, Will’s deadbeat dad Lou comes back into his life after 14 years of being absent. Yay!
Not just yet.
Though Uncle Phil is skeptical of Lou, and can see right through his lies, Will is so happy to be reunited with his father that he doesn't seem to pick up on what is inevitably going to come.
When Lou leaves (again), Will is crushed. Check out the scene below.
Warning: you will probably tear up.
This build up all makes the scene where Lou leaves again all the more dramatic. It still rings true decades later. Will Smith’s emotional and intense performance is an absolute classic.
Shortly after it aired, a legend began.
What was the legend?
It was commonly believed that much of Will’s speech was ad-libbed and based on his own traumatic childhood. The story goes that Will Smith improvised the entire scene based on his issues with his own father, who abandoned him when he was younger.
Except...sorry to say... that’s not true.
So what's the truth?
In reality, Will’s father, Willard Carroll Smith, Sr., was an active participant in his son’s life, encouraging and supporting him in his music and acting career.
In an interview with Reader’s Digest, Smith explained:
I told my parents I wanted to rap. They said, ‘Rap?’ My mother graduated from Carnegie Mellon. She thought college was the only way. My father could kind of see doing something differently. We agreed that I would take a year making music, and if it did not work out, I would go to college. That year we won the first Grammy given to a rap artist.
So it turns out, Will's father believed in him THE MOST.
However, the story behind the scene may not be true, but what is undeniable is how real the emotion of it felt, on both the parts of Smith and Avery. Watch the scene again – can you hear the sounds of audience members crying in the background? Those are 100% real.
According to one TickleTh1sElmo, who was there for the live taping:
The entire show was quiet, even during the funny parts, and I could not figure out why. Before this scene, Will Smith disappeared. He showed up, did this scene in one take, then disappeared again. You might notice his hat coming off. Usually, the director would retake the scene, but really, nothing could replace this moment.
People were crying for a long time when it was over, doing their best not to make noise before the director said “cut.” I was ten years old. Will never, ever, forget.
So, although that infamous urban legend about the scene may not be accurate, there’s no doubt that this is one of the most powerful pieces of acting ever seen on a sitcom. Way to go, Will.