“When I was nine years old, I watched my father punch my mother in the side of her head so hard that she collapsed,” said Will of his father Willard Carroll Smith, Sr.. “I saw her spit blood. me. He was one of the greatest blessings of my life, and also one of my greatest sources of pain.”
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Later in life, while his father was declining physically, Smith had a moment where he considered killing his father. “As I delicately wheeled him from his bedroom toward the bathroom, a darkness arose within me,” he recalled, saying he though about pushing him down the stairs. “As a child I’d always told myself that I would one day avenge my mother. That when I was big enough, when I was strong enough, when I was no longer a coward, I would slay him.” He, of course, didn’t.
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When Will was 13, his mother left the house after his father hit her “for the last time.” He wrote that that was “the first of only two times in my life that I contemplated suicide. I thought about pills; I knew where a boy had lost his legs on the train tracks; I had seen people cut their wrists in a bathtub on TV. But what kept ringing in my mind was a faint memory of hearing [his grandmother] say that killing yourself was a sin.” He didn’t reveal the second time in the book.
In the book, Smith explained why he never curses in his songs. He said his grandmother found some expletive-filled lyrics he written in a notebook and left him a note in it saying, “Truly intelligent people do not have to use language like this to express themselves.” She added, “God has blessed you with the gift of words. Be sure you are using your gifts to uplift others.” While he noted he was “criticized” for not cursing by his peers, he said “there was no peer pressure that even came close to overriding Gigi pressure.”
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Smith said he’s been called the n-word to his face 5 or 6 times in his life. “Twice by police officers, a couple of times by random strangers, once by a white ‘friend,’ but never by anyone who I thought was smart or strong,” he wrote. He added that every encounter he’s had with “over racism” was with people he felt were “weak enemies at best” and so, he never felt “inferior.” He also leaned on comedy, saying that if he could make “the white kids at school laugh” growing up, “I wasn’t a n—–.”
Following his first big breakup with a girlfriend who cheated on him very early in his music career, he “went full ghetto hyena” by having sex “with so many women.” He added that his sexcapades were “constitutionally disagreeable to the core of my being, that I developed a psychosomatic reaction to having an orgasm: It would literally make me gag and sometimes even vomit.”
In 1990, Smith owed the IRS taxes on $3 million worth of income. He added that he didn’t forget to pay, he simply just didn’t. For restitution, he had to give up his cars, motorcycles and even his first home. He wouldn’t break even until after the success of “Independence Day.”
Smith rekindled his romance with the girlfriend who cheated on him, a woman named Melanie. But it didn’t last long. One night, he forbade her from going out, but she did so anyway. He waited in front of his home with all of her belongings, lighting them on fire when she got home at 2AM. They split after that, with Smith saying the two never spoke again. “She did not deserve how I treated her,” he added.
Will landed the lead on Fresh Prince of Bel-Air after Benny Medina invited him to a party at Quincy Jones’ home. During the event, Jones had Smith do an audition for the show in front of everyone there — including Steven Spielberg, Lionel Richie, Stevie Wonder and NBC’s Brandon Tartikoff. Smith called the audition “twenty magical minutes culminating in an ovation from the entire room.” He got a deal memo on the spot.
Smith revealed he turned down a $10 million offer to star in 8 Heads In a Duffel Bag, opting instead for a $300,000 deal to appear in Six Degrees of Separation. The move helped him be seen as a serious actor, though his Method approach left him falling in love with costar Stockard Channing. Smith said that gig had an affect on his marriage to first wife Sheree Zampino, as he found himself “desperately yearning” to see the actress and created “a disconnect between Sheree and me from which we would never recover.”
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Jada Enters the Picture
As Will and Sheree took a break to decide their future, he had a night out with a group of people including Jada Pinkett Smith. He quickly realized she was the “woman of my dreams,” before getting served divorce papers on Valentine’s Day. He called Pinkett again for a date 5 days later and Jada — who had just purchased a home in Maryland — flew to L.A. and never spent a night in that home.
In the beginning of his relationship with Jada, Will was “tortured” by her friendship with Tupac Shakur. He recalled suffering “raging jealously” at the time and feeling “a twisted kind of victory” when his own relationship with Jada made her “less available to ‘Pac.” He said the two never spoke to each other and he was “too immature” to ever be friends.
After seeing a therapist, Sheree wanted to try to make their marriage work. He called Jada and explained the situation, with Jada admitting defeat for the good of his family. “Sheree is right. When you have a child with someone, it is your responsibility to do everything you can to create a loving home for them,” he says she told him — which only made him want to be with Jada even more. He signed the divorce papers.
Will ended up paying for his own child support when his mother decided to file for divorce nearly two decades after separating from his father. She demanded $140,000 from his dad, which he didn’t have. Will wired it to his dad. According to Smith, “she was pissed” when she found that out and ended up paying him back.
Will said Pinkett “despised” the idea of having a traditional wedding ceremony, as well as “questions about the viability of monogamy as a framework for successful long-term relationships.” That being said, her mother, Will and his family all wanted The Big Day. In the “first of many compromises,” she agreed to have a wedding — but her mother had to plan it all, while she just showed up.
Smith said that as his career took off, his wife was was unhappy and, at one point, cried every day for 45 days straight. She felt like “nothing in our world is mine,” while he was busy filling an “internal emotional hole with external, material achievements.” The two didn’t agree on their priorities at all and she called the lavish party he threw for her 40th the “most disgusting display of ego” she’d ever seen. That led to a massive fight which Willow overheard, before the two realize they need to make themselves happy independent of each other to make it work in the long haul.
As the two worked on themselves separately, Smith started studying with Michaela Boehn, a specialist in “Jungian psychology, trauma, and relationship therapy” who also has an expertise in “tantric sexuality.” He also tried “Ayahuasca” — which gave him his “first tiny taste of freedom” after chasing material success for far too long. Over two years, he did it 14 times, including “three of the most hellish psychological experiences I’ve ever endured.”
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Coming Back Together
While there is no mention of “entanglements” or the two experimenting sexually outside their marriage during their break, Will wrote that their “time apart had helped us both to discover the power of loving in freedom.” He added, “We agreed that we were both imperfect people, doing our best to figure out how to be in this world joyfully … Jada and I agreed that we would ride together for this lifetime, no matter what.”