Most actresses are known by their best work, but Jada Pinkett Smith gets a lot more airtime for the way she lives her life, often far outside society’s norms. Jada doesn’t seem to have any problem airing her dirty laundry, but just how dirty does it really get? We’ll soon see…
1. She Was Born Dramatic
Born in Boston, Maryland, in 1971, Jada’s mom named her baby girl after soap opera star Jada Rowland. Rowland starred on As The World Turns, with all the melodrama and plot twists that come with the genre. Well, I don't know if her mother realized it, but she'd chosen the perfect name for little Jada. But while stardom may have been in her name, her early years were far from glamorous.
2. Her Mom Wasn’t Ready
Adrienne Banfield-Jones, Jada’s mother, gave birth to her when she was still a child herself. At only 17, her mother likely felt overwhelmed by the new responsibilities of a baby. The circumstances forced her to figure out a plan for a child before even figuring out her own life. And, as if raising a child isn't hard enough all on its own, the situation soon got much worse.
3. Her Foundation Broke
Jada’s father, Robsol Pinkett Jr., often drank too much, and he became a danger to his family when he did. The young couple married for their baby’s sake, but the marriage quickly deteriorated when an inebriated Pinkett began to harm Jada’s mother. Still a girl, Jada witnessed this toxic treatment, something no child should see. Yet that wasn’t the end of her childhood struggles.
4. Her Mom Couldn’t Cope
Jada’s mom struggled with addiction throughout her childhood. It left a lasting impression on the starlet, who still remembers when her mother "couldn’t make it on time to pick me up from school" or was "falling asleep in the middle of something". Truthfully, Jada seemed set up to fail from the beginning. Luckily for her, she’d find something inside that could save her...
5. She Started Young
With her father finally out of the picture, Jada’s mother and grandmother took over the responsibility of caring for her. Even with the bleak circumstances, her grandmother realized there was something special about her. Turns out, young Jada had a flair for performance. Her grandmother enrolled her in multiple creative classes, including piano, tap dance, and ballet.
And with these new passions came the opportunity to meet someone who would change her life forever.
6. She Made A Cosmic Connection
Jada completed her high school years at Baltimore School for the Arts, where she refined her skills in dance and theatre. It was there that she first met Tupac Shakur. The pair became extremely close, and their strange bond would follow both of them for the rest of their lives. Jada says their intense relationship was "about survival," plain and simple. And as we’ll soon see, she was willing to do almost anything to survive.
7. She Hustled
Jada admitted that when she met Tupac, she was already a drug dealer. In her rough Baltimore neighborhood, being raised by a mother and grandmother who likely didn’t make much money, she probably dealt to supplement her own income and help take care of herself. Still, she was on the verge of a breakthrough, though it would come at a steep cost.
8. She Took A Risk
After graduating from her performing arts high school, Jada got into the North Carolina School of the Arts. She attended the college for a year but thought she could do more by simply striking out on her own. Trying to succeed in Hollywood is a risky choice all its own, but leaving behind a college degree to do it is even harder. Still, she dropped out of college and headed for California.
But Tinsel Town isn't easy on nobodies from Baltimore—and Jada would soon have to work past some irritating false starts.
9. She Felt Out Of Place
Early in her search for roles, the show Blossom offered Jada the part of teenage Six Le-Meure. The show was set to be a success, but Jada decided to turn it down, feeling out of place as an 18-year-old playing a child. Very few actors would turn down a role that good, but Jada was different. She hunted for something more aligned with her goals, and started to find roles she actually wanted.
10. She Popped Onscreen
After turning down Blossom, she guest-starred in shows like True Colors and Doogie Howser, MD. She made a bigger impression with a named role on the final two seasons of the hit show A Different World. Jada slowly but surely made a name for herself on television. Meanwhile, in the background, she worked to make something special of her private life too.
11. She Dated Well
While working on A Different World, Jada got romantically involved with Duke basketball player and future NBA basketball star Grant Hill. While the details of their relationship remain scarce, the athlete was special enough for Jada to bring home for the holidays. Even as her relationship with Hill bloomed, though, Jada refused to cut ties with a connection from her past.
12. She’d Do Anything For Him
As Tupac’s star continued to rise in the hip hop industry, Jada made the most of every opportunity to be a part of his success. The two seemed impossibly intertwined, with Jada making an appearance in his music videos for "Keep Ya Head Up" in 1993 and "Temptations" in 1995. Jada certainly remained ready to stand by her friend, but it wasn’t all give and no take.
In fact, she’d have him to thank for her next major step forward in the entertainment industry.
13. Her Friend Came Through
With a good word from her friend for life, Tupac Shakur, Jada got her first big film role in Menace II Society in 1993. They cast her to play a single mother, costarring with Shakur in another lead role. It should have been an acting reunion of epic proportions—but the dream was not meant to be.
14. She Wanted To Quit
Soon after Jada was cast in her new role, Tupac lost his spot on the movie. He had a problem with the script, and production fired him when he clashed with the director, Allen Hughes, over the disagreement. Loyal to a fault, Jada decided to quit the film. Tupac convinced her to stay, and Jada completed the performance with a flair that brought a whole host of new film opportunities her way.
But if Jada thought her "big break" had arrived, she was in for a rude awakening. Even once you've started working, life in Hollywood came with huge disappointments.
15. She Missed Out On A Classic
In 1994, Jada auditioned for a spot on the animated Disney classic, The Lion King. The huge budget film presented a huge chance for the star, but her singing and acting didn’t quite cut it. Production passed up on Jada, going on to wild success with the rest of its cast. It must have hurt to watch the movie she didn't get become a smash hit, but that's the kind of disappointment all actors have to deal with.
What she likely didn’t realize, though, was that her first film mishap was going to come back to haunt her.
16. She Stayed Loyal
After Menace II Society, Jada played multiple successful film roles, including spots in Jason’s Lyric in 1994 and Demon Knight in 1995. The film world buzzed with the young actress’ potential, but she wasn’t jumping at every opportunity like many other young stars might do. Later in 1995, she turned down a huge role in Dead Presidents because it was being made by the same director who fired Tupac from her first film.
Jada undoubtedly felt deep allegiance to Shakur—but a more sinister vice was also at play.
17. She Was Dependent
Jada continued to experience success onscreen, but behind the scenes, she spent her free time getting high. She misused illicit substances and alcohol, taking after both her mother and father. She spent her days imbibing drug "cocktails" filled with who knows what. At first, she seemed able to keep it out of her professional life. Eventually, though, her risky behavior soon became too much to hide.
18. It Caught Up With Her
In 1996, Jada landed a role in The Nutty Professor alongside one of the greatest comedy stars of the time, Eddie Murphy. One day during filming, she went to set so messed up that she literally passed out while getting her makeup done. She caught herself and managed to explain it away, but it was the wakeup call she needed. Jada immediately cut off her indulgences cold turkey.
Her career on the rise, she hoped to continue working with Tupac on his music ventures. However, she’d soon find herself having to rethink everything.
19. She Stepped Back
Despite his wavering reputation, Tupac’s star rose, with Jada mostly along for the ride. In fact, many people don’t realize that Jada’s ideas inspired the content of the iconic music video for "California Love" in 1995. Tupac and his team hired Jada to direct the video, but she mysteriously turned the offer down. Perhaps her intuition told her that her friend’s life was about to go completely awry...
20. She Supported Anyway
Between 1994 and 1995, Tupac got caught up in a series of convictions, though he denied many of the allegations against him. Jada believed her friend’s story and showed her support by giving $100,000 to help with his bail. Even though she called him one of her "best friends," saying she loved him like a "brother," it’s no wonder people speculate on whether the relationship was romantic.
Jada continues to claim their relationship to be fully platonic. As a matter of fact, while things got messy with Tupac, they were also getting messy with another man. You may have heard of him...
21. She Didn’t Measure Up
Back in 1994, Jada auditioned for the role of Lisa, Will Smith’s girlfriend on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. The show was already a huge hit, and stood to push Jada ahead in her career. However, the part went to someone else. Production concluded that Jada, barely over five feet, was too short to play the six-foot-two star’s girlfriend. She lost the part, but she ended up getting much more.
22. She Glimpsed Her Future
Even though casting refused Jada the role on the show, she did have her first encounter with Will Smith. The terms of their first meeting weren’t the most stellar, with Jada likely very upset about losing out on the role. Still, the two became fast friends, their friendship easily taking a turn to something more romantic. It wasn’t all roses, though. A huge obstacle stood between them.
23. Her Future Was Taken
When Jada started getting to know Will Smith after their meeting in 1994, Will was still married to his first wife, Sheree Zampino. Reportedly, Will’s marriage with his first wife was already deteriorating when he met Jada and eventually fell for her. In 1995, Smith divorced his wife, confirmed with Jada, and the two became official.
The beginning of the relationship wasn’t the most conventional, but Jada and Will seemed to be a match made in heaven. Things in her film career were on the up and up, too!
24. The Cameras Loved Her
Shortly after her huge success in The Nutty Professor, Jada landed a role in the 1996 drama Set It Off alongside other big names of the time. The movie succeeded globally, and Jada emerged as a standout star. Reviewers found her so impressive that one critic even called her the "one to watch". But as Jada likely continued to dream of greater and greater film pursuits, tragedy struck.
25. She Lost Him
Jada found out that her longtime friend, Tupac Shakur, had perished just shortly before she was set to shoot a film in 1996. The news hit her like a ton of bricks—but it was worse than it appeared. She and Shakur actually hadn't been speaking for some time. They stopped talking after a disagreement, and never got the chance to reconcile.
Jada went on to film her movie, perhaps remembering his support of her career. Sadly, she’d soon be faced with life-changing situations that were definitely not part of the plan.
26. She Wasn’t Ready
Two years into their relationship, Jada made a shocking realization during a romantic getaway with Will Smith: She was pregnant, and she was NOT happy about it. Though Smith didn’t believe she knew right away, it turned out to be true. But Jada didn’t feel ready for motherhood—and she felt even more unhappy about what came with it.
27. Her Mother Forced Her
According to Jada, she "never really agreed with the construct (of marriage)". She didn’t believe in the traditional definition of the union, and never envisioned herself married. Will, on the other hand, always wanted to have a marriage. Worse still, Jada’s mother insisted the young actress marry before giving birth. Stuck between her mother, her boyfriend, and her child, Jada did the only thing she could, even if it was the very last thing she ever imagined herself doing.
28. Her Big Day Sucked
Already three months pregnant, Jada married Will Smith on December 31, 1997. Her mother remembers Jada being miserable at the wedding, noting "the wedding was horrible" and that the young star "was very unpleasant". Still, she went through with it, making a promise she’d seem to later regret.
29. She Promised
Even though she didn’t want to be married in the first place, Jada fully committed to her role as mother and wife. She welcomed her son, Jaden, into the world in 1998, and her daughter, Willow, in 2000. Reports even indicate that she explicitly said to her husband, "I will throw my career away before I let it break up our marriage".
Her intentions intention seemed good—but she had no idea what she was in for.
30. She Resisted Her Husband
Even with her new family responsibilities, Jada managed to continue her film career. She nabbed leading roles in several successful films, including Woo in 1998 and Spike Lee’s Bamboozled in 2000. However, Will landed the leading role in the biopic Ali, the production offered Jada the role of Sonji, Ali’s first wife. It sounds perfect—but Jada had other ideas.
She initially felt it would be too difficult for the married couple to transcend their actual relationship for the performance. She ultimately accepted the role, but soon made a surprising shift in career focus.
31. She Found Herself
A few years after her role in Ali, Jada made her next big move, but not as an actress. She created a metal rock band called Wicked Wisdom. Jada loved the genre growing up, and always felt there weren’t enough women in it. She took the problem into her own hands, releasing a moderately successful album with the band in 2006. The band went on to open for Britney Spears and play a successful spot at Ozzfest in 2005.
Jada took on her music with the same determination she took on her acting. All the same, she didn’t feel ready to give up on film yet.
32. She Inspired Her Own Success
In 2003, Jada played Niobe in The Matrix Reloaded. Even better, she didn’t have to fight for this highly anticipated role. The Wachowskis, the writers/directors, actually had her in mind as they wrote the character. Suddenly, Jada was in a massive franchise, and she got the chance to return as Niobe in multiple sequels.
But not every role can be as good as Niobe. One part was so bad, it left a permanent stain on her record.
33. She Tanked
After more success as a voiceover actress in the Madagascar franchise between 2005 and 2008, Jada accepted a role in the 2008 film The Women. The comedy technically succeeded at the box office, but film critics considered it a failure. Critics found it so lackluster that the Razzie Awards nominated her as worst actress of the year for her part in the film. It wasn’t the last time her skills wouldn’t measure up.
34. Audiences Got Bored
Jada accepted a multi-hyphenate role in 2009, executive producing and starring in the tv drama Hawthorne. The show lasted three seasons, but critics called it "tired" and "predictable". Surprisingly, none of these career failures kept the actress from pursuing her passions further. But keeping her film career on track was a lot easier than keeping her family life on track.
35. She Said Too Much
During an interview in 2013, Jada made a statement that brought the entirety of her marriage into question. She said her husband enjoyed great freedom in their marriage, saying she told him, "You can do whatever you want as long as you can look at yourself in the mirror and be okay". Rumors that the two shared an open marriage spread, even as Jada took to Facebook to insist that her statement was misinterpreted.
Some eyebrows were raised, but aside from that, her statement didn't cause too much of a stir—but just you wait...
36. Authorities Checked In
In 2014, photos of her then 13-year-old daughter reclining in bed with a shirtless Moises Arias, a 20-year-old actor, surfaced online. The pictures caused such a stir that Child Protective Services looked into the family. The reports came back clear of any unsafe circumstances or unlawful activities, but not without the media airing their own opinions about both Jada and Will’s parenting.
Even still, nothing could stop her from going after what she wanted.
37. She Kept Going
Setbacks aside, Jada kept booking work, continuing to add other successful roles to her resume. She acted in multiple successful films in the 2010s, including Magic Mike XXL, Bad Moms, and Girls Trip. She made millions of dollars, solidifying her status as a Hollywood heavy hitter. It seemed like she was on top of the world—but that's when all her secrets started to come out.
38. She Told All
Jada debuted Red Table Talk, an online talk show she hosted with her mother and daughter, on Facebook in May 2018. On the show, she and her family discuss a wide range of topics unflinchingly, in a move that revealed much of the star’s life. While the show’s candid honesty earned a daytime Emmy in 2021, it also had several revealing moments. One notorious moment followed a shockingly naughty rendezvous.
39. News Slipped
In 2020, Jada’s world erupted when young R&B star, August Alsina, claimed years of serious romantic involvement with her in a public interview. According to Alsina, Jada’s husband knew about their relationship, and gave him his "blessing," because he and Jada were not in a traditional marriage, but a "life partnership". The news of this affair took on a life of its own on social media. Well guess what? The drama was just beginning.
40. She Covered Her Tracks
Jada responded with a tweet a few days after the interview, deciding to bring herself and Will onto her talk show to publicly discuss the situation. Jada admitted to some type of romantic relationship with Alsina, notoriously calling it an "entanglement". Will claimed that he never gave his blessing, though they both confirmed that they were separated at the time.
Perhaps they expected to put the whole situation to rest, but it only continued to feed the rumor mill.
41. She Left An Impression
The "entanglement" conversation continued on social media, and Alsina saw an opportunity to capitalize on the craze. Just weeks after Jada and Will discussed the situation on Red Table Talk, Alsina released a song about his relationship with Jada called "Entanglements". He released another song directly referencing her and their relationship in 2022, "Shake the World".
But even with all the rumors surrounding much of her life, Jada still found time to venture out into surprising areas.
42. Leah Remini Says She's A Scientologist
The public first started wondering about Jada's Scientology ties in 2017, when former Scientologist Leah Remini claimed Jada had long been a member of the church. Remini recalled frequently seeing Pinkett at the Scientology Celebrity Center back in the days when she was still affiliated with the religion. Pinkett, of course, denied all the allegations—but there's a lot more evidence than that.
It's time we talked about the New Village Leadership Academy.
43. Her School Had NOTHING To Do With Scientology
From 2008 to 2013, Jada and Will Smith ran a school: The New Village Leadership Academy. Their children Jaden and Willow both attended. So did Suri Cruise. Many people claimed that the dubious "school" was based on Scientologist teaching methods. The Smiths denied all the allegations. But some of the educators who taught at the school have come forward with their experiences...and it doesn't look good.
44. She Hired Someone To Run It
The New Village Leadership Academy started off as a home school in one of the Smiths' unused residences. Soon, they purchased an old high school campus and moved there. Jada, spearheading the whole endeavor, hired educator Jacqueline Olivier to help them run their new academy. For Olivier, it seemed like a dream gig—but it soon turned into a nightmare.
45. There Were Some Red Flags
Jada was careful when it came to the New Village Leadership Academy. Nowhere in the school or on the school's website would you find mention of the word "Scientology". So, when the couple sent Olivier L. Ron Hubbard's books to prepare for the upcoming school year, she didn't think too much about it. She just focused on the amazing opportunity that lay ahead of her.
Soon, she would have to face the truth.
46. Her School Taught Scientology Practises
Jacqueline Olivier quickly realized that all of the teachers at her new school just so happened to be Scientologists. Pinkett also asked her to take classes in something called "study technology". A quick google will tell anyone that "study technology" is a controversial teaching method created by none other than L. Ron Hubbard. Oh, and then there was the L. Ron Hubbard portrait that hung in the school.
For a school that had nothing to do with Scientology, the New Village Leadership Academy sure had a lot to do with Scientology.
47. It Wasn't Working
Olivier claims that Jada was the real Scientologist of the couple, while Smith merely "dabbled". However, she quickly realized that the New Village Leadership Academy was not what she had signed up for. The bizarre teaching practices, all based on Hubbard's writing, were a total disaster. The children were all way behind their age group in most basic subjects.
Olivier left the school after a year, and Pinkett found a more..".suitable" replacement.
48. She Put It All Behind Her
Jada hired Scientologist Piano Foster to take over the school and it limped on for another four years until shuttering in 2013. Since then, the couple have tried their best to put the whole mess behind them—while consistently denying any connection to the Church of Scientology, of course. But maybe the school was just a distraction from the other problems that plagued their relationship...
49. She Laughed At Pain
In 2018, Jada Pinkett revealed to the world that she suffered from alopecia areata. The disease caused serious hair loss, and the star ultimately cut all her hair off, wearing it short. She shared her difficulties on Red Table Talk, and publicly shared about finding peace with the disease on Instagram in 2021, saying, "Now at this point, I can only laugh". She didn’t seem quite as comfortable with the reaction of others.
50. Her Husband Defended Her
Jada's alopecia caused an unexpected scene at the 2022 Oscars when comedian Chris Rock poked fun at her baldness, referring to her as "G.I. Jane". Jada appeared displeased, rolling her eyes as the audience laughed. Her husband, on the other hand, proceeded to smack Chris Rock on stage. While the family is dealing with the resulting fallout, Jada has yet to make any major statements on the event, although she did state that "she didn’t need protecting".
With more consequences likely to come, it's natural to wonder how the star feels about her notorious life.