He is described by many as a versatile actor, playing in varying roles and yet still able to extract the essence that makes the character. A good example of this would be his roles in “Ali” and “The Pursuit of Happyness,” where he plays the famed boxer Muhammad Ali and businessman Christ Gardner, respectively. Those two films gave Will two Oscar nominations for being the Best Actor, a true testament to his acting finesse.
A Rapper First then an Actor
Will Smith is the only actor to have eight movies consecutively earn more than one hundred million dollars in the domestic box office and the only actor to have eight consecutive films to open at the top spot in the tally. Will has once been called “the most powerful actor in Hollywood” by Newsweek magazine.
As a rapper, Will Smith has also achieved extraordinary fame and success in his time. Prior to his entry in the world of television and film, Will went by the name “The Fresh Prince” and wrote numerous hit singles and albums. Initially starting out with modest fame, Will’s popularity soared after he starred in the hit television series, “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.”
Even when he entered the world of filmmaking, Will continued to make songs, as he states that music was not just a part of his career, but a part of his life overall. Because of Will’s wacky and upbeat style of rapping, he has received numerous awards and nominations, including winning four Grammy Awards and being nominated for two Academy Awards and four Golden Globe Awards.
Aside from working as an actor and rapper, Will also actively participates in philanthropic work. He and his wife Jada established the Will and Jada Smith Family Foundation as a means of reaching out to the struggling families and inner youth of society.
Through the couple’s foundation, Will has been able to help numerous inner city youths by giving them education, as well as assisting families who are struggling financially by not only providing them financial assistance but also teaching them how to make a living. Will and his wife Jada founded several learning centers that use Study Technology as a means of teaching the students.
Will was raised in a Northern Baptist surrounding, but he has never once spoke ill regarding any religious beliefs. He stated that he has studied different religions, and that he complements many ideas that they promote, including a love for mankind. A rumor came out regarding Will joining the Church of Scientology due to his close friendship with his fellow actor, Tom Cruise, but Will has strongly denied this. In fact, in one of his interviews, Will stated:
“I am a Christian. I am a student of all religions, and I respect all people and all paths.”
Regarding Will’s view of Scientology, he says, “I just think a lot of the ideas in Scientology are brilliant and revolutionary and non-religious.” Will actively supports charitable and religious organizations, so much so that he sets aside a portion of his income every year to donate to them. He is also one of the supporters of the legalization of same-sex marriage, and has endorsed President Barack Obama’s declaration.
Will Smith was born in West Philadelphia in 1968. His parents are Williard Christopher Smith, Sr., a refrigeration engineer (who also owned his own refrigeration company), and Caroline Bright, a school administrator who was also a part of the Philadelphia school board. Both Will’s parents were of the Baptist denomination, and raised Will in their faith.
Although Will was raised in a Baptist family, because of the West Philadelphia neighborhood being a melting pot of cultures, he got exposed to different cultural experiences that opened his mind to the existence of other faiths. West Philadelphia was a community where Orthodox Jews and Muslims lived together, and Will had many friends from both cultures.
In spite of his Baptist upbringing, Will was sent to study in Overbrook High School—a strict Catholic school. In both in and out of the school, Will was known as a very good boy who had a charming personality and a quick tongue; Will was very good in playing with words, and he became renowned in his school and neighborhood for easily talking his way out of trouble. For this amazing gift, he was nicknamed by everyone “Prince.” He was also an excellent student, a quick-learner, which greatly impressed his teachers. Will graduated from high school with high remarks.
Starts Rapping at 12
Will took an early liking to rap music, but it was not until he was 12 that he actually started to sing rap songs, imitating his favorite rappers, such as Grandmaster Flash, but slightly modifying his rhymes with a tint of comedic elements that would later on be his trademark in making rap music.
When Will was 13, his parents separated, leaving him to be taken care of by his mother. This made a huge impact in Will, who looked up to his dad for always teaching him to never give up on something that he set his heart on. Fortunately, even though they were separated, Williard and Caroline did not file for divorce (until 2000), allowing Williard to spend time with his son from time to time.
When Will was 16 years old, he attended a party that was hosted by one of his friends. There, he met the party’s disc jockey named Jeff Townes, and the two soon became friends. Jeff was amazed and taken by Will’s rapping style, and they both decided to form a music trio (along with their friend Clarence Holmes, also known as Ready Rock C, as the human beat box), and the team of DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince was conceived.
In spite of their love for rap music, the duo steered away from the Gangsta style of rap that was prevalent on the West Coast in groups such as NWA and Public Enemy. Instead, Will composed rap songs that centered on teenage life in a clean, curse-free, and radio friendly style that the American public found safe, humorous, and entertaining.
DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince released their first single in 1986, entitled “Girls Ain’t Nothing But Trouble.” The song became an instant hit, establishing Will’s career in the music industry. Soon after, they followed up their success with the release of their singles “Parents Just Don’t Understand” and “Summertime,” both of which gained critical acclaim. In fact, because of these singles, DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince became the first ever recipients of a Grammy award that was given in the Rap category in 1988.
When they released their debut album, titled “Rock the House,” it immediately became a hit and landed a spot at the Billboard Top 200 chart, making Will a millionaire at the age of 18. Due to all the successes that he achieved at a young age, Will did not even think of pursuing his college studies.
One issue that arose regarding Will’s young adult life was his reported turning down of a scholarship offer made by Massachusetts Institute of Technology, an elite school in Boston. Will denied the rumor, stating that he did not even apply to the university, even though he was ‘admitted’ to a pre-engineering program. In an interview, he said:
“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.”
The DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince team continued to experience success with the release of their next album, titled “And In This Corner…” Throughout 1988 and 1989, Will enjoyed his earnings freely, and it was reported that he was underpaying his income taxes. After a long assessment made by the Internal Revenue Service, it was found out that Will had almost three million dollars in tax debts, which caused the IRS to go after him.
After an unsuccessful court hearing to defend his side, Will soon saw the IRS take his possessions and garnish his income. This act almost sent Will to bankruptcy, had it not been for a stroke of favor that he encountered when the National Broadcasting Company invited him to start a career in the television industry.
Rescued from Bankruptcy
In 1990, when Will was almost at the brink of financial bankruptcy, he received an offer from NBC to star in a planned television sitcom. Will readily accepted the offer, and was signed into contract with the company. A few weeks later, the television show “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” was produced, with Will as the main character, a street-smart kid who was sent to live with his wealthy relatives in California. Drawing on his experiences with his fledgling career, as well as incorporating his rapper persona in the character, Will successfully made his Fresh Prince character well-loved, and his show “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” became a huge success, running for six seasons.
The following year, in 1991, Will and his group continued their music career and released their second album titled “Homebase.” It continued to become a financial and critical success, and the singles, such as “Ring My Bell” and “Summertime” became huge hits.
In 1993, they released their final album together, which was titled “Code Red.” By this time, Will became very busy with his television career that he focused a lot of his time into acting. Due to the success that he received with “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” Will found himself drawn to acting and woke up one day with a new ambition—to become the “biggest movie star in the world.” He started to research the factors behind the box office successes and began to take more acting workshops to improve his acting abilities.
In 1992, while Will was busy in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, he was invited to be cast into a minor role for the movie “Where the Day Takes You.” His acting prowess greatly impressed the producers of the film, and he was cast on another movie the following year, “Made in America.”
Success in Hollywood: List of Movies
In 1993, Will finally got his first lead role in the film “Six Degrees of Separation”, where he played a charming street-smart guy who was moving amongst the wealthy members of society, all the while being a psychologically challenged gay hustler. Although “Six Degrees of Separation” did moderately in the box office, it made such an impact on the viewers that the title of the film became a common household term for the closeness of relationships in society.
In 1995, Will shifted from drama and moved into the action genre of movies by collaborating with fellow actor Martin Lawrence into producing a high-budget film which they titled “Bad Boys.” In this movie, Will worked with director Michael Bay into shifting away from the black cop white cop formula that was used for the highly successful films such as “Beverly Hills Cop” and “Lethal Weapon.” The movie became a huge hit, and garnered praise from a lot of critics for Will and Martin’s tandem, where Will played the smooth and serious partner to Martin’s funny and rough cop. The film became a critical and financial success, and established Will’s superstar career in the international audience.
The following year, in 1996, Will was cast into the science fiction movie “Independence Day” as an air force pilot who led the counter attack against the alien forces who were invading Earth. In this movie, Will effortlessly transformed his comedic abilities into the sententious one-liners that action heroes need to say while getting rid of their opponents. The film became that year’s highest grossing film and further boosted Will’s career into the spotlight, making him a certified leading man material in films.
Due to the success of his science fiction endeavor, Will was cast again in 1997 alongside veteran actor Tommy Lee Jones as an agent for Earth’s protection in the comedy science fiction action film “Men In Black.” In this movie, Will played the wacky and hilarious partner of the dry and serious character of Tommy Lee Jones. Upon its release, the film became a critical and financial success, garnering praise from critics for the setting and the acting of Will and Tommy, and winning an Academy Award. Will produced a single based on the movie which he included in his album “Big Willie Style,” which became equally successful.
In 1998, Will worked with renowned director Jerry Bruckheimer and starred in the conspiracy thriller film “Enemy of the State” alongside veteran actor Gene Hackman. In this movie, he played a labor lawyer who was thrust into the world of espionage and politics after he unwillingly receives information that could incriminate a high-ranking National Security Agency official.
The movie was well-received by moviegoers and critics alike, praising the performances of Will and Gene in their attempt to escape from the government agents who were out to get them. Will’s performance earned him a nomination for an NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Actor, something that truly proved his finesse in acting.
While Will continued enjoying success after success in his film career, he did have some trying moments. Will’s 1999 science fiction cowboy film, “Wild Wild West,” where he played a government agent opposite Kevin Kline was not well-received by critics and performed poorly in the box office. In spite of the movie’s lackluster box office performance, Will did not get discouraged, and upon the release of his album “Willenium,” which included a single based on the movie, it became a hit, landing a spot at the Billboard 200 chart. The following year, Will started to enjoy movie success again when he played alongside Matt Damon in the movie “The Legend of Bagger Vance.”
Prior to being cast in “Wild Wild West,” Will was offered the role of Neo in the epic science fiction movie “The Matrix,” but turned it down in favor of the former. After the movie’s financial and critical failure, Will stated that he did not harbor any regrets regarding his decision, believing that Keanu Reeve’s performance as Neo was better than what he could have done.
In 2001, Will starred in the biopic movie “Ali,” where he played the title character based on Muhammad Ali, the boxing legend. This proved to be a very challenging role for Will, as he trained for months and disciplined himself to extraordinary lengths so he could accurately portray the athleticism and ego of the famed boxing hero. Although the film achieved moderate success in the box office, Will was nominated for best actor at the Oscars for his performance.
In the next two years, Will continued to star in the sequels of his previous successful films, “Bad Boys II” and “Men in Black II.” Although both films continued to be successful both critically and financially, they did not exceed nor match the success that their prequels achieved. In spite of this, Will did not become discouraged in starring in science fiction films, and in 2004 starred in “I, Robot,” a film adaptation of the famous Isaac Asimov novel of the same name. In this movie, Will portrayed a robot-hating cop whose investigation of a robot murder leads him to uncovering a robot insurgency. “I, Robot” became a critical and financial success, grossing over 150 million dollars in the United States box office.
In 2005, Will got a chance to put his ‘smooth talking’ persona on the big screen by portraying a ladies’ man and dating consultant who helps guys court women by teaching them romantic moves in the film “Hitch.” Aside from starring in the film, Will also sang the theme song, which he included in his album “Lost and Found,” also released that year. Both the film and album became a success, garnering numerous amounts of supporters and praise from the critics.
The following year, Will starred alongside his son Jaden Smith in the critically acclaimed movie “The Pursuit of Happyness,” a rags–to–riches film based on the story of the famous businessman, Chris Gardner. In the film, the real-life father and son duo played Chris Gardner and his son in an urban adventure of building their lives from scratch. The film received praise from almost all critics, and did very well at the box office. Will also received his second Academy Award nomination for Best Actor for his performance in “The Pursuit of Happyness.”
In 2007, Will went back to the science fiction genre by starring in the movie “I Am Legend,” which was a remake of the “Omega Man,” a hit film that starred famed actor Charlton Heston. Portraying a doctor left alone in New York battling bloodthirsty creatures, Will saw the movie received amazing reviews from critics and perform very well in the box office. In fact, “I Am Legend” became the movie with the largest opening sales of films released in December.
Reviews about the film stated that the movie’s commercial success further ‘cemented’ Will’s standing as the top box office draw in Hollywood. Prior to the release of the film, Will was honored at the Grauman’s Chinese Theater on Hollywood Boulevard, and left his hand print outside the theater in front of his numerous fans.
In the following years, Will continued to experience success after success in his films. And while some of his films did well both critically and commercially (such as “Seven Pounds,” “Lakeview Terrace,” and “Men in Black III”), there were others that were not highly received by the critics (such as “Hancock”). And all throughout Will’s hilly journey in the film industry, one thing has kept him positive in his outlook in life—his belief that “If you believe that you can be anything, then you can do anything.”
President Barack Obama once stated in an interview that if a film were to be ever created about his life, he wanted Will to star in the title role, due to them having “similar ears.” President Obama also stated that he has discussed with Will the possibility of a film about the 2008 election being made, but it may not happen until the end of his presidency.
Will’s personal life was also a mix of challenges and triumphs. Will married his first wife, Sheree Zampino in 1992, after several dates and months of courting her. Sheree bore Will a child, which he named after himself, Williard Christopher Smith III, more popularly known as Trey. Although they loved each other, the couple had several fights that eventually led to their divorce in 1995. Will was extremely devastated with this incident, and in interviews made with him later on, he stated that he really learned a great deal of lesson in loving someone and in marriage from what happened.
In 1997, Will met fellow actor Jada Pinkett and immediately fell in love with her. They got married the same year, and have stayed married ever since. Jada bore Will two children: Jaden Christopher Syre (born in 1998) and Willow Camille Reign (born in 2000). Will’s children have starred with him in several of his movies, with Will raving that they are endowed with natural-born talent in acting, stating they entered the movie industry without proper acting lessons.
The Will and Jada Foundation
Will has engaged himself in several philanthropic activities throughout his career. He and his wife Jada founded the Will and Jada Smith Foundation as a means of reaching out to the out of school youth and the poor families of the community. He has close friendly relationships with President Barack Obama, and in 2009, flew with his family in Norway to host the Nobel Peace Prize Concert, where Barack Obama was one of the recipients. He also helped greatly during the 2012 presidential elections of President Obama, by hosting a fundraiser at his home, collecting over 500,000 dollars.
Currently, Will is occupied with several projects both in film and his music career. His latest movie, “After Earth,” where Will stars with his son Jaden is set for a mid-2013 release and his fifth album is currently in the production stage. Will also actively engages himself in philanthropic work, occasionally speaking in several youth conferences, encouraging the young people to never stop believing that they can achieve their goals and dreams in life.
Films Starred In or Produced
- 1992: Where the Day Takes You
- 1993: Made in America
- 1993: Six Degrees of Separation
- 1995: Bad Boys
- 1996: Independence Day
- 1997: Men in Black
- 1998: Enemy of the State
- 1999: Wild Wild West
- 2000: The Legend of Bagger Vance
- 2001: Ali
- 2002: Men in Black II
- 2003: Bad Boys II
- 2004: Jersey Girl
- 2004: I, Robot
- 2004: Shark Tale
- 2005: Hitch
- 2006: The Pursuit of Happyness
- 2007: I Am Legend
- 2008: Hancock
- 2008: Seven Pounds
- 2012: Men in Black 3
- 2013: After Earth
Music Albums Made
- 1987: Rock the House
- 1988: He’s the DJ, I’m the Rapper
- 1989: And in This Corner…
- 1991: Homebase
- 1993: Code Red
- 1997: Big Willie Style
- 1999: Willennium
- 2002: Born to Reign
- 2005: Lost and Found
Organizations and Programmes Supported
- 46664 Foundation
- Dream Foundation
- Elton John AIDS Foundation
- Entertainment Industry Foundation
- Feeding America
- Florida Marlins Community Foundation
- Fulfilment Fund
- Living Classrooms Foundation
- Lupus Foundation of America
- Miami Children’s Hospital Foundation
- Motion Picture and Television Fund Foundation
- Red Cross
- Stand Up To Cancer
- Will and Jada Smith Family Foundation
- Youth Build
- Youth Health Empowerment
Awards and Achievements
- 1989: Received the Grammy Award for Best Rap Performance (Parents Just Don’t Understand)
- 1989: Received the MTV Video Music Award for Best Rap Video (Parents Just Don’t Understand)
- 1992: Received the Grammy Award for Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group (Summertime)
- 1997: Received the MTV Video Music Award for Best Video from a Film (Men in Black)
- 1997: Received the Blockbuster Award for Favorite Actor (Independence Day)
- 1998: Received the MTV Video Music Award for Best Male Video (Just the Two of Us)
- 1998: Received the American Music Award for Best Rap Solo Performance (Men In Black)
- 1998: Received the MTV Video Music Award for Best Rap Video (Gettin’ Jiggy wit It)
- 1998: Received the Blockbuster Award for Favorite Actor (Men in Black)
- 1999: Received the Blockbuster Award for Favorite Actor (Enemy of the State)
- 1999: Received the American Music Award for Favorite Soul/R&B Male Artist
- 1999: Received the American Music Award for Favorite Pop/Rock Album (Big Willie Style)
- 1999: Received the American Music Award for Favorite Soul/R&B Album (Big Willie Style)
- 1999: Received the Grammy Award for Best Rap Solo Performance (Getting’ Jiggy Wit It”)
- 1999: Received the MTV Video Music Award for Best Male Video (Miami)
- 1999: Received the Image Award for Entertainer of the Year
- 2000: Received the American Music Award for Favorite Pop/Rock Male Artist
- 2000: Received the American Music Award for Favorite Soundtrack (Wild Wild West)
- 2002: Received the BET Award for Favorite Actor
- 2005: Received the American Music Award for Favorite Pop/Rock Male Artist
- 2006: Received the Saturn Award for Best Actor (I Am Legend)