Willard Christopher “Will” Smith, Jr. (born September 25, 1968) is an American actor, film producer and rapper. He has enjoyed success in music, television and film.
Smith rose to fame as a rapper under the name “The Fresh Prince” in the late 1980s as his role in the television series The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. His most notable films include Bad Boys, Men in Black, Independence Day, I, Robot, Ali, The Pursuit of Happyness, I Am Legend, Hancock, and Seven Pounds. He is the only actor in history to have eight consecutive films gross over $100 million in the domestic box office as well as being the only actor to have eight consecutive films open at #1 on the domestic box office as a Lead Actor.
Smith, was born and raised in West Philadelphia and Germantown in Northwest Philadelphia. He attended Overbrook High School; Smith’s charming and sly demeanor in school resulted in the nickname “Prince”, which eventually turned into the “Fresh Prince”. While still in his teens, Smith began rapping and eventually began collaborating with Jeff Townes (a.k.a. DJ Jazzy Jeff).
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 critical acclaim for winning the first ever Grammy in the Rap category (1988). He had a line in “Voices That Care”, a 1991 Gulf War song by a celebrity group.
In 1990, the NBC television network signed Smith 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 originally rejected the lead role in Men in Black, but wife Jada Pinkett Smith coaxed him into acceptance. 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”. In 1998 he starred with Gene Hackman in Enemy of the State. 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.
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 #1 hit theme song “Men in Black”, the #1 hit “Gettin’ Jiggy wit It”, 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 Happyness, where he played Chris Gardner in his rags-to-riches story.
In 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 July 2, 2005, 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. The album was propelled solely on the smash hit single, “Switch”, which stayed atop the charts for months and returned Smith to the forefront of hip-hop.
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. 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.
Smith is currently developing a film entitled The Last Pharaoh, in which he will star as Taharqa.
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.
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, who appeared as his daughter in “I Am Legend” (born 2000).
Smith has been consistently listed in Fortune Magazine’s “Richest 40″ list of the forty wealthiest Americans under the age of 40. Smith and his family reside on Star Island in Miami Beach, Florida and in Los Angeles, Stockholm, Sweden and Philadelphia.