Willard Carroll Smith II, also known by his stage name The Fresh Prince, is an award winning American actor and rapper.
Early Life and Family
Willard Smith, Jr., was born on September 25, 1968, and raised in Wynnefield, Pennsylvania, a middle-class suburb of West Philadelphia.
He was the oldest son and one of four children.
His mother, Caroline was a school administrator who worked for the Philadelphia school board, and his father, Willard Christopher Smith, Sr., was a refrigeration engineer.
His parents were loving but demanding, the kind who took their children to Mount Rushmore on vacation to prove that education does not end with the classroom.
His middle-class upbringing saw him attend the strict Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic School, despite his family’s observation of the Baptist faith.
As a teen, Smith attended Overbrook High, a public school in Philadelphia. His teachers there nicknamed him “the Prince” because they found him so charming.
His best subject was mathematics, and he earned good enough grades to be accepted at the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) engineering program.
Smith began rapping at age 12, emulating heroes like Grandmaster Flash but tingering his rhymes with a comedic element that would later become his trademark.
At age 16 Smith met future collaborator Jeff Townes at a party.
The two became friends, and the duo DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince emerged.
Will Smith 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 recognition for winning the first ever Grammy in the Rap category (1988).
Smith had a line in “Voices That Care”, a 1991 Gulf War song by a celebrity group.
Smith spent money freely during his early career 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 launched his acting career.
Smith set himself the goal of becoming “the biggest movie star in the world,” studying box office successes’ common characteristics.
Although he made a notable dramatic film debut in Six Degrees of Separation while still appearing in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Smith’s film career took off with his role in the buddy cop film Bad Boys (1995) along with co-star Martin Lawrence.
After The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air ended May 20, 1996, Smith began a successful solo music career while simultaneously starring in a series of films. The first two films were hugely successful summer blockbusters: Independence Day (1996), in which he played a fearless and confident fighter pilot, and Men in Black (1997), where he played the comic and confident Agent J against Tommy Lee Jones’ deadpan Agent K. Smith’s acting in Men in Black won critical praise.
He actually rejected the lead role in Men in Black, but wife Jada Pinkett Smith compelled him into accepting the offer.
The two films established Smith’s commercial reputation as a bankable star whose appeal across age, race, and gender lines could “open” a film at the box office, a reputation Smith would begin to term a “Big Willie Weekend”.
It was around this time that he co-founded Overbrook Entertainment.
In 1998, he starred with Gene Hackman in Enemy of the State.
Smith turned down the role of Neo in The Matrix in favour of Wild Wild West.
Despite the disappointment of Wild Wild West, Smith has said that he feels no regrets about his decision.
Smith then went on to gain leading roles in several box office successes, including Men in Black II, Bad Boys II, Hitch, and I, Robot.
Will Smith also released a string of hit singles, often associated with his most recent film, throughout the late 1990s.
The most notable of these were his no.1 hit theme song “Men in Black”, the no.1 hit “Gettin’ Jiggy wit It” (which made jiggy a catch phrase for a while in 1998), and a cover of “Just the Two of Us”, an affectionate message to his young son.
His first two solo albums, Big Willie Style (1997) and Willennium (1999), went multi-platinum.
Smith was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor, for the film Ali, 2001, for his portrayal of the boxer Muhammad Ali, formerly known as Cassius Clay, in the biopic.
He was again nominated for Best Actor Oscar for his role in another true-life movie, The Pursuit of Happiness, where he played Chris Gardner in his rags-to-riches story.
Smith’s third album on Columbia Records, Born to Reign released in 2002, was a sales disappointment compared to his past efforts, and after a quick Greatest Hits release that was almost not advertised at all, he was dropped by the label.
He later signed a recording contract with Interscope Records.
In 2005, Smith made it into the World Guinness Book of Records for attending a record breaking three premieres within 24-hours.
On July 2, 2005 Will Smith served as host for the Live 8 concert in his native Philadelphia in front of an enormous crowd, and later performed a set with DJ Jazzy Jeff.
During this time, Smith released his fourth studio album, the successful Lost & Found.
On December 10, 2007 Smith was recognised at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard.
Will Smith left an imprint of his hands and feet outside the world renowned theatre in front of many fans.
Later that month, Smith starred in the film I Am Legend, released December 14, 2007.
Despite negative 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 “very unique”.
Will Smith Awards
- Grammy Award, for Best Rap Performance, “Parents Just Don’t Understand,” 1989.
- Grammy Award, for Best Rap Performance, for “Summertime,”1992; National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
- Image Award for Best Situation Comedy, for The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, 1992.
- Grammy Award, for Best Rap Performance, for “Men In Black,” 1998.
- Grammy Award, for Best Rap Performance, for “Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It,” 1998.
- ASCAP Awards, 1998, 2000;
- Blockbuster Entertainment Awards favorite actor (sci-fi), 1996 and 1998, and favorite actor (action/adventure), 1999.
- Image Award, for Entertainer of the Year, Outstanding Music Video, and Outstanding Rap Artist, 1999.
- BET Award, for Best Actor, for Ali, 2002.
Will Smith’s net worth is estimated at $350 Million, making him one of the richest actors in the world.