|Born||Willard Carroll Smith Jr.
September 25, 1968
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.
|Residence||Los Angeles, California, U.S.|
|Other names||The Fresh Prince|
|Net worth||$250 million (2014)|
|Children||Trey, Jaden, and Willow Smith|
Willard Carroll Smith Jr. (born September 25, 1968) is an American actor, producer, rapper, and songwriter. In April 2007, Newsweek called him "the most powerful actor in Hollywood". Smith has been nominated for five Golden Globe Awards and 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 NBC television series The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, which ran for six seasons until 1996. After the series ended, Smith transitioned from television to film, and has gone on to star 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 has been 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 2016, his films have grossed $7.5 billion at the global box office. For his performances as boxer Muhammad Ali in Ali (2001) and stockbroker Chris Gardner in The Pursuit of Happyness (2006), Smith received nominations for the Academy Award for Best Actor.
Family and early life
Willard Carroll Smith Jr. was born on September 15, 1968 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to Caroline (Bright), a Philadelphia school board administrator, and Willard Carroll Smith, Sr. (died 2016), 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.
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. In the summer of 1997 he starred 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."
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.
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. Smith worked with Barry Sonnenfeld during the film's helming who commented that Smith was an exception in being an actor who was successful not for the size of his head, but that his "ego" compensated for it. After the release of Men in Black III, Smith was content with ending his work with the franchise: "I think three is enough for me. Three of anything is enough for me. We'll look at it and we'll consider it, but it feels like that it might be time to let someone else do that."
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. In The Pursuit of Happyness, Smith portrayed Chris Gardner. Smith said he first became interested in making a film about Gardner after seeing him on 20/20 and connected with him during production. The film, along with Smith's performance, received praise.
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 later left the project.
Smith played Dr. Bennet Omalu of the Brain Injury Research Institute in the sports-drama Concussion, who became the first person to discover chronic traumatic encephalopathy. Smith's involvement was due to his departure from the science fiction film Brilliance. He had doubts about the film early in production, saying, "Some of my happiest memories are of watching my son catch and throw a football. I didn’t want to be the guy who did a movie saying football could be dangerous." These views subsided upon his meeting with Omalu, whose words about American ideals resonated with Smith.
In 2016, Smith played Deadshot in the supervillain team-up action film Suicide Squad. Smith's inclusion in Suicide Squad meant choosing it over Independence Day: Resurgence, which he turned down due to seeing his involvement in the sequel as "clinging and clawing backwards." Later that year, Smith starred in director David Frankel's drama Collateral Beauty, playing a New York advertising executive who succumbs to a deep depression after a personal tragedy. Weeks after signing Smith onto the film, his father was diagnosed with cancer, from which he died in 2016. As part of his role required him to read about religion and the afterlife, he was brought closer to the elder Smith, calling the experience "a beautiful way to prepare for a movie and an even more majestic way to say goodbye to my father."
Smith married Sheree Zampino in 1992. They had one son, Trey Smith, born on November 11, 1992, and divorced in 1995. Trey appeared in his father's music video for the 1998 single "Just the Two of Us". He also acted in two episodes of the sitcom All of Us, and has appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show and on the David Blaine: Real or Magic TV special.
Smith married actress Jada Koren Pinkett in 1997. Together they have two children: Jaden Christopher Syre Smith (born 1998), his co-star in The Pursuit of Happyness and After Earth, and Willow Camille Reign Smith (born 2000), who appeared as his daughter in I Am Legend. Smith and his brother Harry own Treyball Development Inc., a Beverly Hills-based company named after Trey. Smith and his family reside in Los Angeles, California.
Smith was raised in a Baptist household and went to a Catholic school, but he no longer identifies himself as religious. Though he is not a Scientologist and has denied rumors claiming him as a member of the Church of Scientology, he has spoken favorably about it, saying "I just think a lot of the ideas in Scientology are brilliant and revolutionary and non-religious."
Smith gave $1.3 million to charities in 2007, of which $450,000 went to two Christian ministries, and $122,500 went to three Scientology organizations; the remaining beneficiaries included "a Los Angeles mosque, other Christian-based schools and churches, and [.....] the Yitzhak Rabin Memorial Center in Israel." Smith and his wife have also founded a private elementary school in Calabasas, California, the New Village Leadership Academy. Federal tax filing showed that Will Smith donated $1.2 million to the school in 2010.
Smith donated $4,600 to the 2008 presidential campaign of Democrat Barack Obama. On December 11, 2009, Smith and his wife hosted the Nobel Peace Prize Concert in Oslo, Norway to celebrate Obama's winning of the prize. In 2012, Smith stated he supports legalizing same-sex marriage.
With DJ Jazzy Jeff
- Where the Day Takes You (1992)
- Made in America (1993)
- Six Degrees of Separation (1993)
- Bad Boys (1995)
- Independence Day (1996)
- Men in Black (1997)
- Enemy of the State (1998)
- Wild Wild West (1999)
- The Legend of Bagger Vance (2000)
- Ali (2001)
- Men in Black II (2002)
- Bad Boys II (2003)
- I, Robot (2004)
- Shark Tale (2004)
- Hitch (2005)
- The Pursuit of Happyness (2006)
- I Am Legend (2007)
- Hancock (2008)
- Seven Pounds (2008)
- Men in Black 3 (2012)
- After Earth (2013)
- Winter's Tale (2014)
- Focus (2015)
- Concussion (2015)
- Suicide Squad (2016)
- Collateral Beauty (2016)
- Bright (2017)
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