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 nearly six years (1990–1996) on NBC and has been syndicated consistently on various networks since then. In the mid-1990s, 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 and the only one to have eight consecutive films in which he starred open at #1 spot in the domestic box office tally.
Fourteen of the nineteen fiction films he has acted in have accumulated worldwide gross earnings of over $100 million, and four took in over $500 million in global box office receipts. As of 2011, his films have grossed $5.7 billion in global box office. His most financially successful films have been Bad Boys, Bad Boys II, Independence Day, Men in Black, Men in Black II, I, Robot, The Pursuit of Happyness,I Am Legend, Hancock, Wild Wild West, Enemy of the State, Shark Tale, Hitch and Seven Pounds. He also earned critical praise for his performances in Six Degrees of Separation, Ali and The Pursuit of Happyness, receiving Best Actor Oscar nominations for the latter two.
Family And Early LlifeEdit
Smith was born and raised in West Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and also spent time in Germantown in Northwest Philadelphia. His mother, Caroline (née Bright), was a school administrator who worked for the Philadelphia school board, and his father, Willard Christopher Smith, Sr., was a refrigeration engineer. He was raised Baptist. His parents separated when he was thirteen, and did not actually divorce until around 2000.
It is untrue, though widely reported, that Smith turned down a scholarship to attend the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT); he never applied to the school, although he was admitted to a "pre-engineering program" there. 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 CareerEdit
Early work (1985–1995)EditSmith 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 had a line in "Voices That Care", a 1991 Persian 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 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. His first major roles were in the drama Six Degrees of Separation (1993) and the action film Bad Boys (1995).
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 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. Though 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."
International success (2001–present)EditIn 2005, Smith was entered into the Guinness Book of World Records for attending a record breaking three premieres in a 24-hour time span.
On December 10, 2007, Smith was recognized 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 has been 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.
President Barack Obama has stated that if a film were to ever be made about his life, he would have Smith play his part, because "he has the ears". Obama stated that the two have discussed a possibility of a film based on the 2008 election, but this may not happen until the end of the Obama presidency.
He is currently filming Men in Black III for a 2012 release playing Agent J, one of his more popular earlier roles, making this his first major starring role in four years.
Smith was raised by his parents in West Philadelphia. Smith credits his father's dedication when discussing his own involvement in the lives of his three children: "I look at my father and how he was able to keep four kids fed and clothed and still managed to find time to spend with us." Smith married Sheree Zampino in 1992. They had a son, Willard Christopher Smith III, also known as "Trey", but divorced in 1995. Trey appeared in his father's music video for the 1998 single "Just the Two of Us". Smith married actress Jada Pinkett in 1997. Together they have had two children: Jaden Christopher Syre (born 1998), his co-star in The Pursuit of Happyness, and Willow Camille Reign (born 2000), who appeared as his daughter in I Am Legend. Along with his brother, Harry Smith, he owns Treyball Development Inc., a Beverly Hills-based company named after his first son. Smith and his family reside on Star Island in Miami Beach, Florida and in Los Angeles, Stockholm, Sweden and Philadelphia.
Smith was consistently listed in Fortune Magazine's "Richest 40" list of the forty wealthiest Americans under the age of 40 and according to magazine article Celebrity Net Worth Smith's estimated net personal wealth is stated at $188 million. He donated $4,600 to the presidential campaign of Democrat Barack Obama. December 11, 2009, Smith and his wife hosted the Nobel Peace Prize Concert in Oslo, Norway, when Obama had won the prize.Smith has said he has studied multiple religions, including Scientology, and he has said many complimentary things about Scientology and other faiths. Despite his praise of Scientology, Smith said "I just think a lot of the ideas in Scientology are brilliant and revolutionary and non-religious" and "Ninety-eight percent of the principles in Scientology are identical to the principles of the Bible.... I don't think that because the word someone uses for spirit is 'thetan' that the definition becomes any different." He has denied having joined the Church of Scientology, saying "I am a Christian. I am a student of all religions, and I respect all people and all paths." 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, which uses Study Technology, a teaching methodology developed by L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology.