September 23, 2017 | Shannon Quinn

Harsh Facts About Will Smith, The Complicated Icon

We all sat transfixed as Will Smith screamed at Chris Rock moments after smacking the...heck...out of him. Then, we watched Smith win Best Actor, go up on stage, and try to grapple with his actions in real time. A lot of us were understandably shocked, but if you know Will Smith's complicated personal life, you shouldn't have been surprised. A long, difficult road led straight to "The Slap." [Warning: This article references domestic violence]

Will Smith Facts

1. He Had A (Mostly) Happy Childhood

Will Smith's West Philadelphia upbringing was mostly happy. His father was tough, but fair, and both his parents cared deeply about his education. They were passionate about his upbringing and always did their best to provide for Will and his three siblings. However, Will's father had a dark side, and it changed him forever.

The Pursuit Of Happyness - UK Film PremiereGetty Images

2. He Saw Something No Child Should See

When Will Smith was nine years old, he saw something horrifying. Will and his siblings cowered in fear as they watched their beloved father punch their mother in the head so hard that she collapsed in a heap on the floor. Young Will saw blood in his mom's mouth as she lay there. That moment has haunted him for his entire life—but there was more trauma to come.

Premiere Of Warner Bros. Pictures' 'Focus' - ArrivalsGetty Images

3. His Parents Split Up

Thankfully, a few years after Will saw his father strike his mother, his mom decided she'd had enough. Smith's parents separated when he was a teenager, before finally divorcing in 2000. The end of any abusive relationship is a good thing—but Smith was too young to understand that. Instead, the shame that he felt sent him down a dark path.

Will Smith facts Getty Images

4. He Hit Rock Bottom

Will Smith may always have seemed like the silly, charismatic, charming movie star we know—but he's hit rock bottom before. When his mother left his father, Smith spiraled. In his recent biography, Smith confided that he has thought about taking his own life twice. The first came after his parents' separation. He didn't know how to deal with the pain. The only thing that stopped him was the memory of his grandmother, who'd told him that suicide was a sin.

Will Smith carried on—but his relationship struggles were only beginning.

Will Smith FactsGetty Images


5. He Fell Head Over Heels

Now, Will Smith was a young man—and you've seen Will Smith before. He didn't have much trouble finding a girlfriend. But you'll soon realize that Smith's conceptions about women weren't particularly healthy. His first intense girlfriend was a woman named Melanie. From the day Smith met her, he was obsessed—but it soon consumed him.

Will Smith FactsIndependence Day (1996) ,20th Century Fox

6. He Was Obsessed

Like Smith himself, Melanie came from a troubled background. As Smith put it, "Healing the pain of her trauma became [his] constant preoccupation." If you don't think that sounds like grounds for a healthy relationship, we're right there with you. It was only a matter of time before it went up in flames.

Will Smith factsGetty Images

7. She Betrayed Him

Melanie was Smith's obsession—then she cheated on him. How do you think that went? Smith broke up with her, obviously. But then, in his words, he went "full ghetto hyena." As in, he started sleeping around. A lot. In his biography, he claims he slept with so many women that he "developed a psychosomatic reaction to having an orgasm." He claims sometimes, reaching climax was so harrowing that he'd vomit.

Clearly, Smith has some...issues with his feelings towards women. And even worse, he hadn't even met Jada Pinkett yet...

AFI FEST 2015 Presented By Audi Centerpiece Gala Premiere Of Columbia Pictures' 'Concussion' - Red Carpet. Will Smith.Getty Images

8. He Had Trouble With The Law

Relationship struggles weren't the only thing haunting Will Smith. He had developed a violent streak as well. Shortly before he landed The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, changing his life forever, Smith ran into trouble with the law for—you guessed it—assault. An alleged attack on his record producer led to a whole bevy of charges against the Fresh Prince.

The producer eventually dropped the charges—and just in time! Will Smith was about to become a household name.

Will Smith FactsGetty Images

9. He Went Looking For Jada

Will Smith's history with Jada Pinkett goes back even before his marriage to his first wife. Smith saw Pinkett on NBC's A Different World, and she transfixed him. Now, give Will Smith one thing: The guy doesn't lack confidence. Since he himself starred on his own NBC sitcom, he figured he'd just stroll down to set and "happen" to bump into this gorgeous woman he'd seen on TV.

It didn't exactly work out like that.

Will Smith factsShutterstock


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10. He Met Someone Else

Will didn't meet Jada that day, but he met someone else: Sheree Zampino. Smith made her laugh, and they started going out. A few months later, they were married. A son, Trey, was born before the year was out. But even still, Will hadn't forgotten about that woman he'd seen on TV—and soon enough, fate would bring them together again.

Will Smith FactsGetty Images


11. Jada Auditioned For Fresh Prince

In 1994, not too long after A Different World ended, Jada Pinkett auditioned to play Smith's girlfriend on Fresh Prince. I bet Smith couldn't believe his luck—but it wasn't meant to be. Producers thought she was way too short to play across Smith. Pinkett didn't land the role, but now that Smith had bumped into her again, he wasn't going to let her go.

The fact that he was married didn't really affect his decision.

Will Smith factsShutterstock

12. It Started As An Affair

Will Smith walked up to Jada Pinkett and asked her if she was seeing anyone. She said no. He said, "Ok, so you're seeing me now." But there was just one problem. The whole "marriage and child" thing. Will Smith wasn't letting Jada Pinkett go, but he knew that a public affair wasn't the best look. So, for the first several months of their relationship, they hid from the public eye.

They finally went public after Smith's divorce to Zampino was final. But of course, nothing can ever be so simple with Will Smith...

Will Smith factsShutterstock

13. His Divorce Was The Ultimate Failure

Nothing was going to stop Will Smith from being with Jada, but divorce was a heavy cost to pay. He still calls divorce "the worst thing in [his] adult life" and "the ultimate failure." He remembered how he felt when his mother left his father, and now, he had gone and done the same thing. That divorce would haunt him for the rest of his life. But one thing was for sure: He was never going to divorce Jada.

He didn't realize what that decision would cost him.

Will Smith factsFlickr, Paul Williams

14. He Has A Jealous Streak

Early in his relationship with Jada Pinkett, Smith struggled with jealousy. She was close friends with Tupac Shakur, and Smith just couldn't quite wrap his head around it. Though Tupac and Pinkett never actually dated (at least, not that she has admitted), they were extremely close friends. Smith just wasn't secure enough about their relationship to let that go. He says he suffered a "raging jealousy."

If only he knew how much Jada would test that...

Tupac FactsFlickr,Elvert Barnes

15. She Didn't Want To Get Married

Will Smith and Jada Pinkett tied the knot in 1997 while expecting their son Jaden—but not everyone was happy. Smith couldn't wait to marry Pinkett, but his better half wasn't quite so excited. Pinkett has been clear that she never wanted to get married. Pressure from her traditional mother and Smith himself convinced her it wouldn't be so bad.

Soon enough, though, marriage started to feel like a prison. But at least there was one thing this unconventional couple could bond over..

Will Smith factsShutterstock

16. They Say They Aren't Scientologists

If you haven't already guessed, Will Smith and Jada Pinkett aren't exactly a..."traditional" couple. Oh, and don't forget, they are both extremely famous, which adds a whole new wrinkle. Did those things draw them toward Scientology? Well, the couple has spent years denying that they are Scientologists—but there is a whole lot of smoke around them for there to be no fire...

Will Smith factsShutterstock


17. Leah Remini Says They Are

The public first started wondering about Smith and Pinkett'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.

Leah Remini FactsShutterstock

18. Their School Had NOTHING To Do With Scientology

From 2008 to 2013, Will Smith and Jada Pinkett 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.

2013 MTV Video Music Awards - AudienceGetty Images

19. They 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. Smith and Pinkett 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.

Will Smith factsShutterstock

20. She Noticed Some Red Flags

Smith and Pinkett were 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 schoolyear, 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.

Will Smith factsShutterstock

21. OK, It Was Totally About Scientology

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.

Errol Flynn FactsWikimedia Commons

22. The School Wasn't Working

Olivier claims that Pinkett 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.

Will Smith factsFlickr, j-No


23. They Put The School Behind Them

Pinkett and Smith 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...

Will Smith factsShutterstock

24. There Was Trouble In Paradise

It seems like Will Smith and Jada Pinkett never saw quite eye-to-eye over the whole Scientology thing—but that wasn't their only problem. Serious issues began when Smith bought a 150-acre estate in Calabasas. "Nothing good comes from spending your hard-earned money on a ‘family home’ that your wife doesn’t want," wrote Smith in his memoir.

Pinkett never wanted the house, and their early years there saw nothing but arguments. They worked through it—but more troubles lay ahead.

Will Smith factsShutterstock

25. Jada Had A Midlife Crisis

Jada Pinkett claims she had a midlife crisis when she turned 40. That could put strain on any marriage—and Pinkett and Smith's union was even more flammable than most. Smith planned a huge birthday party for his wife in New Mexico. It...didn't go as he planned.

Will Smith factsShutterstock

26. He Went All Out

When I plan a party, I buy some food, some drinks, maybe a balloon if I'm feeling extra. Will Smith...commissioned an entire documentary tracing Jada's lineage back to slavery. I don't know about you, but that sounds kinda thoughtful. Pinkett did not agree. She was absolutely furious.

Will Smith factsFlickr, Gage Skidmore

27. She Was Furious

Pinkett called the entire birthday party "the most ridiculous display of [Will's] ego." Smith, who had obviously spent months planning the big day, did not take her reaction well. Their screaming match got so out of control that their 10-year-old daughter Willow ran up to them sobbing, her hands over her ears, begging them to stop.

Clearly, their marriage had some issues. The scandalous rumors flying around about Pinkett definitely didn't help things, either.

Premiere Of Columbia Pictures' 'The Karate Kid' - Arrivals.Getty Images

28. Rumors Started Spreading

You can't listen to every rumor that springs up in Hollywood. At least, that's what Jada Pinkett told us when people started whispering that she was having a secret affair with Marc Anthony. She announced that all the rumors were completely false, that her relationship with Will Smith was totally fine, and that was that. To be fair, she might have been telling the truth.

But this was just the beginning. A whole lot more dirt was going to come out before long.

Will Smith factsWikimedia Commons

29. They Had An Open Relationship

In 2013, Jada Pinkett Smith went on Huff Post Live and said something that took fans by surprise. She said, "I’ve always told Will, 'You can do whatever you want as long as you can look at yourself in the mirror and be OK.'" A lot of fans took this to mean that they had an open relationship, and that Pinkett was fine with Smith going out and sleeping around. Well, we'll soon learn, it's a lot more complicated than that.

Tupac FactsFlickr,Athena LeTrelle

30. It Went Both Ways

Soon after her Huff Post Live interview, Pinkett took to the internet to clarify her statements. She maintained that Smith was free to "do whatever he wants"—but the same went for her as well. OK, fine, I understand why you would want to make that distinction. But the thing is, I think Jada revealed a little more than she'd planned...

64th Annual Tony Awards - ArrivalsGetty Images

31. Will Might Not Have Been On Board

A close friend of the couple has revealed to the press that the whole "open marriage" thing was all Jada's idea—and she was taking advantage of Will. She claimed to be "mentoring" him to take their relationship to the next level. Really, she was just using that as an excuse to get what she wanted out of the marriage. And what was that?

Exactly what she said: To be free to do whatever she wanted.

Pursuit Of Happyness - Charity LunchGetty Images

32. It Was All Jada's Idea

If you ask Smith, he supports his "open marriage" 100%—but he can't deny that it was Jada's idea. He's quick to point out that "Jada never believed in conventional marriage." That clashed with Smith's more traditional upbringing, but remember: Divorce was not an option. Will Smith considers his first divorce his greatest failure, and he wasn't going to let it happen again.

So, no matter how difficult it was, he was going to make this "unconventional marriage" thing work. Easier said than done.

Celebs at NBA Finals Game in PhiladelphiaGetty Images

33. She's Extremely "Open"

Most people would assume that it's the man who would want an open marriage, and Pinkett has definitely played that up. She went on Howard Stern to discuss how it was natural for her husband to look at other women, and even to act on those impulses. "Just because your man is attracted to another woman doesn’t mean he doesn’t love you," she said.

I'm sure the dudes of the world went gaga over her statements. But, the thing is—I don't necessarily think Jada was talking about Will when she said that...

Will Smith factsFlickr, Paul Williams

34. She Brought Another Man Out

In 2017, Jada Pinkett Smith attended the BET Awards, but not with her movie star husband. Instead, rapper August Alsina was on her arm. Hey, Will Smith's a busy guy, he can't make every award show, so no one thought too much about it. But that wasn't the last we'd heard of August Alsina. Up to this point, as far as the public was concerned Pinkett's talk of an "open marriage" was just that: talk.

August Alsina was about to blow all that up.

Will Smith factsGetty Images

35. He Revealed Their Secret

In 2020, August Alsina gave probably the biggest interview he'll ever give in his life. For the first time, he opened up Jada Pinkett. Not only did he reveal that the two of them enjoyed a long physical and emotional relationship, but he also claimed that Will Smith had given him his "blessing." Now THAT'S the kind of celebrity gossip you don't hear every day.

So, did Will and Jada finally come clean about their "unconventional marriage?" Of course not!

Will Smith factsFlickr, Kmeron

36. She Denied Everything

Jada kept it simple: Deny, deny, deny. Immediately after Alsina's interview dropped, Pinkett's reps announced that his claims of a relationship were "absolutely not true." Except...they were true. At least, partly.

Will Smith factsShutterstock

37. She Had To Fess Up

The funny thing about "absolutely not true" is that sometimes it means, "ok fine it's kinda mostly true." A month later, Pinkett finally admitted that she got into an "entanglement" with Alsina—without Will's blessing—when the pair separated in 2015. Then, on an episode of Pinkett's show Red Table Talk, she and Smith decided to share a frank discussion about the entire fiasco.

It should have cleared everything up—but I, for one, left with far more questions than answers.

Will Smith factsRed Table Talk (2018– ), Nuyorktricity

38. They Were On A Break!!

Will Smith and Jada Pinkett discussed the August Alsina affair with surprising frankness. Pinkett reiterated that they had been on a break, and that she had "just wanted to feel good." She also firmly denied that Will had given Alsina "permission," reclaiming her own agency in the relationship. Then it was Will's time to open up.

Will Smith factsRed Table Talk (2018– ), Nuyorktricity

39. He Thought It Was Over

Though Will Smith and Jada Pinkett remain married, you can understand how the "entanglement" with Alsina might have been a little hard on him. In the Red Table Talk, he admitted it: "I was done with you...I really felt like we could be over." But remember, "divorce" was no simple thing for Will Smith. He still feels shame about his first divorce, so he wanted to stick it out—no matter the cost.

Turns out, that cost was steep, even for someone as rich as Will Smith.

Environmental Media Association Hosts Its 26th Annual EMA Awards Presented By Toyota, Lexus And Calvert - Red Carpet.Getty Images

40. Divorce Was Not An Option

During their infamous Red Table Talk, Smith put it plainly: "Because I had been divorced before, I wasn’t getting divorced again. Divorce wasn’t an option." However, that doesn't mean their separation was easy on him. In fact, he found this split even more devastating than a divorce. But, he was determined to make it work by any means necessary. And hey, why not have a little fun while doing it?

Will Smith factsRed Table Talk (2018– ), Nuyorktricity

41. He Also Slept Around

As yet, only Pinkett's "entanglements" have gone public, but she allegedly wasn't the only one. While opening up to a reporter from GQ, Smith "delicately" explained that he had gotten into plenty of "entanglements" of his own. Maybe one day there will be an addendum to this article revealing just who with, but for now, it remains Smith's secret.

But now we get to the hard part: Will Smith and Jada Pinkett had separated, gotten entangled, then gotten back together. How was that going to work?

Will Smith FactsGetty Images

42. They Don't Say They're Married Anymore

Here's the redundant statement of the year: Will Smith and Jada Pinkett's marriage is complicated. So complicated, in fact, that they don't even say they're married anymore. They call themselves "life partners" who have reached "relational perfection." According to them, this means they are completely comfortable with each other, and that there is nothing either of them could ever do to destroy their relationship.

Sounds like a dream, right? Well, I don't know about that...

Power Couples factsGetty Images

43. She Grew Frustrated In The Bedroom

Jada Pinkett's Red Table Talk is, if nothing else, refreshingly honest. On the show, she has spoken at length about her "relational perfection," and what she and Smith have gone through to get there. She revealed that, in the early days of their relationship, she occasionally found herself frustrated in the bedroom. But, rather than tell Smith what she wanted, she expected him to figure it out on his own: "Well, if you love me, you should know. If you love me, you should read my mind."

This exacerbated how she felt trapped by the marriage—a marriage that, today, leaves her free to do whatever she wants, whenever she wants...

Will Smith factsRed Table Talk (2018– ), Nuyorktricity

44. Chris Rock Has Made Jokes Before

We haven't even mentioned the Smiths' history with Chris Rock yet. He'd made plenty of jokes at the couple's expense before. He'd even made fun of them at the Oscars before! On the year the pair of them skipped the ceremony in protest, Rock went on stage and joked, "Jada boycotting the Oscars is like me boycotting Rihanna's panties. I wasn't invited." But Rock wasn't the only one making fun of the Smiths.

They sat through an even harsher joke at the BAFTAs.

Ali Wong factsWikimedia Commons

45. Rebel Wilson Made Fun Of Them At The BAFTAs

At the 2022 BAFTAs, mere weeks before "The Slap," Rebel Wilson made Smith and Pinkett the butt of her punchlines—and her joke was even more personal. Wilson said Smith was good in King Richard, but that his “best performance over the past year was being OK with all his wife’s boyfriends." Now, for a couple who has reached "relational perfection," that joke would have been easy to brush past.

Smith was OK with Pinkett's boyfriends...right?

Will Smith factsGetty Images

46. Jada Struggled With Hair Loss

It's important to note that Jada Pinkett has indeed struggled with hair loss, and her current look isn't entirely her choice. She began losing her hair a few years ago, and doctors couldn't explain why. She recalled the horrible feeling when she began noticing her hair coming out in clumps in the shower: "It was one of those times in my life where I was literally shaking in fear. That’s why I cut my hair, and why I continue to cut it," she said.

Will Smith factsShutterstock

47. She Came To Accept It

After her initial horror, Pinkett claims she learned the accept her hair loss: "Now at this point, I can only laugh...I thought I'd just share it so y'all are not asking questions." We salute her for the choice—but clearly, it hasn't worked out quite so simply. At least, it definitely looks like Will never got the message about "laughing."

Will Smith factsShutterstock

48. One Piece Is Missing

Now, we know what Will Smith and Jada Pinkett have gone through to not get a divorce. We know Will Smith has had issues with jealousy and violence in the past. We know that Jada Pinkett's hair loss was traumatic. However, there's one final piece to the puzzle behind "The Slap." It goes all the way back to Smith's parents, and it puts everything into focus.

Will Smith factsFlickr, Martin de Witte

49. Will Smith Did It All For His Mother

It all comes back to the day that Will Smith saw his father punch his mother: "Within everything that I have done since then—the awards and accolades, the spotlights and attention, the characters and the laughs—there has been a subtle string of apologies to my mother for my inaction that day, for failing her in the moment. For failing to stand up to my father. For being a coward."

He frequently uses the word "protect" when discussing this story. He failed to "protect" his mother, and he'd never fail to protect the women in his life again.

Will Smith FactsGetty Images

50. He Forgave, But Never Forgot

Though Smith maintained a close relationship with his father, even after his parents' divorce, his resentment always bubbled under the surface. Then, near the end of his father's head, it reared its ugly head again—and it sent Will down a sinister path. He claims, in his memoir, that he considered killing his father in those days.

Will Smith factsFlickr, Gage Skidmore

51. He Had A Disturbing Thought

When Smith's father was wheelchair-bound and fighting cancer, Will still hadn't forgotten about that horrible day, all those years ago. He wrote,, "As a child, I’d always told myself that I would one day avenge my mother. I paused at the top of the stairs. I could shove him down and easily get away with it. Thank God we’re judged by our actions and not our trauma-driven, inner outbursts."

He was, even if just for a brief moment, willing to push his father down the stairs to, in his mind, protect his mother. The same impulse that drives him to "protect" all the women in his life.

Will Smith factsGetty Images

52. He Smacked The **** Out Of Chris Rock

We have finally reached, "The Slap." Chris Rock told Jada Pinkett that he couldn't wait to see her in G.I. Jane 2. Will Smith guffawed along with the crowd—but Jada wasn't laughing. Moments later, Will cheekily strolled up on stage to exaggerated "Uh ohs" from the audience, then...SMACK.

The world thought it was a joke—but as the cameras cut to Smith's screams of "Keep my wife's name out of your ******* mouth!", we all realized at once. That had, indeed, just happened.

Will Smith factsGetty Images

53. Everyone Has An Opinion

The Slap will continue to be dissected for years to come. Everyone on Earth has their opinion on it. Chris Rock went too far, Will Smith needed to protect his wife, Will should have been removed, they should take away his Oscar, they should give him ANOTHER Oscar. But one thing is very clear: Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith have one of the messiest, most complicated relationships in Hollywood.

Though they claim to have reached "relational perfection," the Slap proves they might still be working through some things.

Will Smith factsGetty Images

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8

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