Willard Carroll “Will” Smith, Jr. (born September 25, 1968) is an American actor, producer, rapper, and songwriter. He has enjoyed success in television, film, and music. In April 2007, Newsweek called him “the most powerful actor in Hollywood”. Smith has been nominated for five Golden Globe Awards, two Academy Awards, and has won four Grammy Awards.
In the late 1980s, Smith achieved modest fame as a rapper under the name The Fresh Prince. In 1990, his popularity increased dramatically when he starred in the popular television series The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. The show ran for six seasons (1990–96) on NBC and has been syndicated consistently on various networks since then. After the series ended, Smith moved from television to film, and ultimately starred in numerous blockbuster films. He is the only actor to have eight consecutive films gross over $100 million in the domestic box office, eleven consecutive films gross over $150 million internationally, and eight consecutive films in which he starred open at the number one spot in the domestic box office tally.
Smith is ranked as the most bankable star worldwide by Forbes. As of 2014, 17 of the 21 films in which he has had leading roles have accumulated worldwide gross earnings of over $100 million each, five taking in over $500 million each in global box office receipts. As of 2014, his films have grossed $6.6 billion at the global box office. He has received Best Actor Oscar nominations for Ali and The Pursuit of Happyness.
- 1 Family and early life
- 2 Recording and acting career
- 2.1 Early work
- 2.2 Feature films
- 3 Personal life
- 3.1 Religious beliefs
- 3.2 Political views
- 4 Discography
- 5 Filmography
- 6 See also
- 7 References
- 8 Further reading
- 9 External links
Family and early life
Smith was born in West Philadelphia, the son of Caroline (Bright), a Philadelphia school board administrator, and Willard Carroll Smith, Sr., a refrigeration engineer. He grew up in West Philadelphia’s Wynnefield neighborhood, and was raised Baptist. He has three siblings, sister Pamela, who is four years older, and twins Harry and Ellen, who are three years younger. Smith attended Our Lady of Lourdes, a private Catholic elementary school in Philadelphia. His parents separated when he was 13, but did not actually divorce until around 2000.
Smith attended Overbrook High School. Though widely reported, it is untrue that Smith turned down a scholarship to attend the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT); he never applied to college because he “wanted to rap.” Smith says he was admitted to a “pre-engineering [summer] program” at MIT for high school students, but he did not attend. According to Smith, “My mother, who worked for the School Board of Philadelphia, had a friend who was the admissions officer at MIT. I had pretty high SAT scores and they needed black kids, so I probably could have gotten in. But I had no intention of going to college.”
Recording and acting career
Smith started as the MC of the hip-hop duo DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince, with his childhood friend Jeffrey “DJ Jazzy Jeff” Townes as turntablist and producer, as well as Ready Rock C (Clarence Holmes) as the human beat box. The trio was known for performing humorous, radio-friendly songs, most notably “Parents Just Don’t Understand” and “Summertime”. They gained critical acclaim and won the first Grammy awarded in the Rap category (1988).
Smith spent money freely around 1988 and 1989 and underpaid his income taxes. The Internal Revenue Service eventually assessed a $2.8 million tax debt against Smith, took many of his possessions, and garnished his income. Smith was nearly bankrupt in 1990, when the NBC television network signed him to a contract and built a sitcom, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, around him.
The show was successful and began his acting career. Smith set for himself the goal of becoming “the biggest movie star in the world”, studying box office successes’ common characteristics.
Smith’s first major roles were in the drama Six Degrees of Separation (1993) and the action film Bad Boys (1995) in which he starred opposite Martin Lawrence.
In 1996, Smith starred as part of an ensemble cast in Roland Emmerich’s Independence Day. The film was a massive blockbuster, becoming the second highest grossing film in history at the time and establishing Smith as a prime box office draw. He later struck gold again in the summer of 1997 alongside Tommy Lee Jones in the summer hit Men in Black playing Agent J. In 1998, Smith starred with Gene Hackman in Enemy of the State.
He turned down the role of Neo in The Matrix in favor of Wild Wild West (1999). Despite the disappointment of Wild Wild West, Smith has said that he harbors no regrets about his decision, asserting that Keanu Reeves’s performance as Neo was superior to what Smith himself would have achieved, although in interviews subsequent to the release of Wild Wild West he stated that he “made a mistake on Wild Wild West. That could have been better.”
In 2005, Smith was entered into the Guinness Book of World Records for attending three premieres in a 24-hour time span.
He has planned to star in a feature film remake of the television series It Takes a Thief.
On December 10, 2007, Smith was honored at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard. Smith left an imprint of his hands and feet outside the world-renowned theater in front of many fans. Later that month, Smith starred in the film I Am Legend, released December 14, 2007. Despite marginally positive reviews, its opening was the largest ever for a film released in the United States during December. Smith himself has said that he considers the film to be “aggressively unique”. A reviewer said that the film’s commercial success “cemented [Smith’s] standing as the number one box office draw in Hollywood.” On December 1, 2008, TV Guide reported that Smith was selected as one of America’s top ten most fascinating people of 2008 for a Barbara Walters ABC special that aired on December 4, 2008.
In 2008 Smith was reported to be developing a film entitled The Last Pharaoh, in which he would be starring as Taharqa. It was in 2008 that Smith starred in the superhero movie Hancock.
Men in Black III opened on May 25, 2012 with Smith again reprising his role as Agent J. This was his first major starring role in four years.
On August 19, 2011, it was announced that Smith had returned to the studio with producer La Mar Edwards to work on his fifth studio album. Edwards has worked with artists such as T.I., Chris Brown, and Game. Smith’s most recent studio album, Lost and Found, was released in 2005.
Smith and his son Jaden played father and son in two productions: the 2006 biographical drama The Pursuit of Happyness, and the science fiction film After Earth, which was released on May 31, 2013.
Smith starred opposite Margot Robbie in the romance drama Focus. He played Nicky Spurgeon, a veteran con artist who takes a young, attractive woman under his wing. Focus was released on February 27, 2015. Smith was set to star in the sci-fi thriller Brilliance, an adaptation of Marcus Sakey’s novel of the same name scripted by Jurassic Park writer David Koepp. But he left the project.
Smith played Dr. Bennett Omalu of the Brain Injury Research Institute in the sports-drama Concussion, who became the first person to discover chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in a football player’s brain. CTE is a degenerative disease caused by severe trauma to the head that can be discovered only after death. Smith’s involvement is mostly due to his last-minute exit from the sci-fi thriller-drama Brilliance. Concussion was directed by Peter Landesman andbead filmed in Pittsburgh, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. It received $14.4 million in film tax credits from Pennsylvania. Principal photography started on October 27, 2014. Actress Gugu Mbatha-Raw played his wife. Omalu served as a consultant.
As of November 2015, Smith is set to star in the independent drama Collateral Beauty, which will be directed by David Frankel. Smith will play a New York advertising executive who succumbs to an deep depression after a personal tragedy.