A successful rapper turned Hollywood actor and producer, Will Smith is a multi-award winning artist celebrated for a string of blockbuster movies. After ignoring a college scholarship to study engineering, the Suicide Squad star prides in his decision to pursue acting with how much he has achieved to date. Despite being named the most powerful actor in Hollywood back in 2007, Smith never compromises his career and has always remained focused for more achievements each passing year.
Willard Carroll Smith Jr. was brought up in Winnfield, West Philadelphia. His father Willard Carroll Smith Sr. was a refrigeration engineer while his mother, Caroline Bright was a school board administrator. Smith is the second born in the family; her elder sister Pamela and two younger twin brothers with his siblings namely, Pamela and twins Harry and Ellen.
They were all brought up as Baptists in a loving but quite demanding household. In an interview with Essence, Smith said that his father was tough though not tyrannical. Even then, his parents ensured that the family never lacked the basic needs. His father resigned his job to make sure his children’s discipline while growing up was not compromised. From time to time, he spanked Will and his brothers if their conduct went far from ideal. Nonetheless, Smith credits his father since his disciplinary attitude enabled achieve a lot as a child.
Smith Senior also instilled the hardwork and patience attitude in his children. When Will was younger, he recalls his father giving him and his brother a project that seemed impossible to them. They were required to rebuild one of the crumbling walls in the yard which was 16 feet high and 50 feet long. The boys soon started the project with the spirit of ‘one brick at a time’ which they got from their father. Six months later, and constant supervision from their father, the boys completed the project. To date, when Will gets pessimistic that something is impossible, he looks back to his early years and remembers the ‘one brick at a time’ lesson.
As for Caroline, his mother, she was the loving type that would read him rhyming books by Dr. Seuss. Whenever Will talks of his childhood, he always mentions a loving mother and a disciplinarian dad.
Smith’s parents however separated when he was 13 and later divorced when he was a young man of 32 years.
At an early age, Will Smith was a multi-talented charming boy. He loved sports and more so basketball and chess. During his free time, he would write poems and listen to different genres of music. He also learned to play the piano from his mother and taught himself how to drum. Pleased by their son’s love for music, his parents bought him a stereo system as a gift when he was only ten years. His great love for rap music was soon born after the system was given to him. He would rap to his friends by emulating Grandmaster Flash by tingeing his rhymes with a comedic effect.
Smith enrolled in Our Lady of Lourdes catholic school for his elementary studies, but he felt that the priests and nuns were racists and so he never enjoyed his life there. As a teen, he headed to Overbrook High School in Philadelphia. He was a smart and charming boy who loved Mathematics and because of this, he was nicknamed ‘Prince’ by everyone in the school. After graduation, Will had earned exemplary grades and was accepted in the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology to pursue an engineering course.
Will Smith’s fate however decreed a different path and in 1981, he decided not to attend college but instead pursue music. Smith then began rapping under his nickname, Fresh Prince. He soon met his friend Jeff Townes popularly known as DJ Jeff and although Jeff was only a few years older, he was already performing at parties. The two collaborated and created a group called DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince.
The hip-hop duo would soon become popular for entertaining a curse-free style of music. Their first single titled ‘Girls Ain’t Nothing but Trouble’ was a hit in 1986. The following year, they released their debut album Rock the House which upon release peaked at the Billboard Top 200 charts. This immediately made the young Will a millionaire before the age of 18. The result was Smith turning down his scholarship at the elite Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MTI).
In 1988, they released the second album He’s the DJ, I’m The Rapper. The new album consisted of humorous and radio friendly singles such as ‘Parents just Don’t Understand’ and ‘Nightmare on My Street’. The album was a great success that saw the duo honored their very first Grammy Award for Best Rap Performance.
Smith was soon swimming in a flood of money following his unexpected grand popularity. He spent his money freely and never bothered paying his income tax. In 1989, he was caught up by the law and all his possessions were confiscated due to a sum of $2.8 million of unpaid taxes. Will Smith was almost declared bankrupt then.
In 1989, the duo released another studio album And In This Corner. The fourth album titled Homebase was released in 1991 with its single hits Summertime and Ring My Bell. DJ Jazzy Jeff and Fresh Prince finally released their final album Code Red in 1993 and its most notable single was ‘Boom! Shake the Room’.
Smith then went solo and released the album Big Willie Style in 1997 with the hit single ‘Getting Jiggy with It’. He released yet another rap album in 1999 titled Willennium which was a multi platinum success. The single ‘Will 2k’ from the album ranked in the top ten list and its video received a Grammy Award nomination.
In 2002, he released Born to Reign, an album that featured special vocals from his wife and son. His last album was released in 2005 under the title Lost and Found.
In the midst of Will’s financial crisis in 1989, the NBC Broadcasting Network hired him for a sitcom titled The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air based on his real life persona. Smith played under the character name Will, a street smart teen living with his wealthy aunt in the posh suburbs of Los Angeles. The TV program was such a great success and this marked as the beginning of his acting career. The series which ran for six successful seasons garnered Smith two Golden Globe Award nominations as well as appointment as an executive producer for the series’ final season.
While filming the NBC sitcom, Smith played small roles in small screen productions that included the drama Where The Day Takes You in 1992 and the 1993 comedy Made in America.
Gaining recognition as a young actor, several producers noticed his energetic prowess and he was soon awarded a lead role in Six Degrees of Separation in 1993. He starred alongside Ian McKellen and Donald Sutherland and played a streetwise gay hustler who makes a living through conning the elite circles.
Following the success his previous film received, Will starred opposite Martin Lawrence to film the comedy thriller Bad Boys. The movie proved Smith’s star power after it made more than $100 million worldwide.
In 1996, the pretty boy was cast in Roland Emmerich’s blockbuster film Independence Day. The action film became his best ever work after it was a huge box office success and earned more than $100 million in the first week after release. The fiction film also became the second highest grossing film in history at that time.
Will Smith was now earning immense popularity in Hollywood and in 1997, Barry Sonnenfeld hired him to feature in Men in Black. Smith played the legendry role of Agent J and starred opposite Tommy Lee Jones. The movie became the best selling film in 1997 after it grossed over $200 million.
The late ’90s and early new millennium saw the gifted actor feature in a number of successful films that include, Wild Wild West, The Legend of Bagger Vance and Ali. The latter was adopted from the life and career of boxer Muhammed Ali which earned Smith the first Academy Award nomination for the Best Actor.
Sequels of Men in Black II and Bad Boys II started off Smith’s new century works. He then featured in I am Robot, which he starred as a futuristic cop who investigates a murder committed by a robot and then battling the robot insurgency. Just like most of Smith’s works, the film was a great success and grossed more than $144 million in the US only.
In 2005, Smith switched gears and starred in a romantic comedy Hitch where he played a dating consultant helping men find the women of their dreams.
By this time, Will Smith had gained international stardom credit to his commercially successful films. In 2006 he featured in yet another hit titled The Pursuit of Happiness starring alongside his 8-year old son Jaden. He played the single father who struggles to raise his son. The film earned him the second nomination from Academy Award for Best Actor.
I am Legend which featured Will battling blood-thirsty vampires was released in 2007 and it instantly became an international hit.
In the years that followed, Smith featured in the superhero movie Hancock, as well as Men in Black III and the romance drama Focus where he played a young and attractive con-man.
In 2014, he played an interesting role of Dr. Bennet Omalu who discovers a chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in a player’s brain in the sports drama Concussion.
By 2016, he played Deadshot in the DC blockbuster Suicide Squad as well as a more somber role as a father in Collateral Beauty.
Smith is set to feature in more films in the year 2017 that include Bright, African American Museum and Bad Boys for Life.
Smith is a celebrated black American artist in the USA and beyond, credit to his versatile prowess in acting. He is further admired for his philanthropist nature and his generous giving for charity. In 2007, he donated $1.3 million to Christian ministries and a Los Angeles Mosque. Smith and his wife are also founders of a private elementary school in California where they donated $1.2 million in 2010.
Smith, together with his wife Jada, support a range of humanitarian causes that include education, child welfare, youth empowerment and health issues.
Politically, Smith is an amid supporter of the Democratic party. In 2008, he donated $4,600 towards Barack Obama campaign. After Obama won the elections, Smith and his wife hosted the Nobel Peace Prize Concert in Oslo to celebrate the win. In 2012, the Men in Black star supported the bill legalizing same sex marriages.
Obama and Smith are indeed great friends. In a rare discussion between the two, the former US president stated that it would be his pleasure if Smith played him if there would ever be a film about his life and career.
Although charming as he is, Smith has been married twice with one failed marriage. In 1992, he married actress Sheree Zampino and the two had a son named Trey Smith. However, the couple separated before finally settling their divorce in 1992. Trey and his father remain very close to date with him appearing on his father’s 1998 music video ‘Just the Two of Us’. Trey also made an appearance in the Sitcom All of Us where his father also starred.
In 1997, Will married Jada Koren Pinkett, an actress he had met in 1990 auditioning to be his girlfriend in Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. The couple is blessed with two children; son Jaden Christopher Syre Smith born in 1998 and daughter Willow Camille Reign Smith born in 2000.
Smith who resides in Los Angeles, California has ensured that his children follow into his footsteps by introducing them to artistry at a tender age. Jaden co-starred alongside his father in The Pursuit Of Happiness and After Earth. As for his daughter Willow, she made an appearance in I am Legend.
Smith and his brother Harry co-own Treyball Development Inc, a Beverly Hills based company named after his eldest son Trey. The company compliments his artistry income, summing his net worth to over $250 million. Smith has been listed among the forty wealthiest Americans under 40 years by Fortune Magazine.
Although Will was raised a Christian, he no longer identifies himself with religion. He has however denied all claims linking him to the Church of Scientology. Even then, he loves science and believes scientology views and ideas in regards to religion are brilliant.
Written by: Peris Ngaruiya