Will Smith has a therapist, and she has a name for his nice-guy persona: Uncle Fluffy. “He signed every autograph, shook every hand, kissed every baby. Fluffy was jovial, talented, smart, generous. Uncle Fluffy needed everyone to like him,” Smith writes in his memoir.
At the Oscars on Sunday night, Uncle Fluffy abruptly left the building. One minute, Smith was sitting in the audience with his wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, laughing along with the host, Chris Rock. Then Rock made the mistake of joking about Pinkett Smith’s lack of hair: “Jada, can’t wait for GI Jane 2.” The actress has explained in the past that she shaved off her hair after developing alopecia, so the quip was tactless at best.
Jada Pinkett-Smith, left, and husband Will Smith at the Oscars.Credit:AP
Smith still appeared to be laughing as the joke landed. But his wife was not. Within seconds, Smith launched himself out of his seat, strode onto the stage and slapped Rock in the face.
At first, the assembled A-listers and audience at home presumed it was staged. But when Smith returned to his seat and twice shouted: “Keep my wife’s name out of your f—ing mouth,” eyes blazing, it was clear that he was deadly serious.
Barely half an hour later, Smith, 53, was on stage again – this time accepting the best actor award for King Richard.
According to reports, the Academy held an emergency meeting once the ceremony was over, with some members demanding that Smith be stripped of his Oscar. On social media, some expressed their anger. Marshall Herskovitz, producer of The Last Samurai and Blood Diamond, tweeted: “I call upon the Academy, of which I am a member, to take disciplinary action against Will Smith. He disgraced our entire community tonight.”
Mark Hamill, the Star Wars actor, called it “the ugliest Oscar moment ever”, while Kathy Griffin, the comedian, said: “Let me tell you something, it’s a very bad practice to walk up on stage and physically assault a comedian. Now we all have to worry about who wants to be the next Will Smith in comedy clubs and theatres.”
Inside the auditorium, however, the mood was different. While Rock retreated backstage to lick his wounds, Smith was consoled by fellow stars, including Denzel Washington, while his PR representative hovered by his side. And when he accepted his award, he did so to a standing ovation. That’s Hollywood.
Tears streamed down Smith’s face as he drew parallels between the character he played – Richard Williams, father of tennis stars Venus and Serena – and himself. “Richard Williams was a fierce defender of his family,” he said, complaining that in this business “you gotta be able to take abuse… to have people disrespecting you … and you gotta smile and pretend like that’s okay”.
He apologised to the Academy and his fellow nominees. He rambled about “protecting” his female co-stars on set, and thanked Washington for his wise words of advice. “Denzel said to me a few minutes ago: ‘At your highest moment, be careful. That’s when the devil comes for you.‘” Love, Smith said, “will make you do crazy things”.
Will Smith accepts the award for best actor at the 2022 Oscars.Credit:Getty
From there, it was off to the Vanity Fair Oscar party, where the DJ obligingly played Smith’s old hits Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It and Miami. Encircled by a crowd of admirers, he rapped the lyrics while waving his gold statuette and looked to be having the time of his life.
“I think he overreacted,” said Whoopi Goldberg, another Academy member. “Not everybody acts the way we would like them to act under pressure. And he snapped.
“We’re not going to take that Oscar from him. There will be consequences, I’m sure, but I don’t think that’s what they’re going to do.”
There is history between the three protagonists. Rock had a cameo in The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, Smith’s 1990s show, and voiced a character in the Madagascar films alongside Pinkett Smith. There are photos of the three together in happier times. But Rock also had a jibe at the actress when he hosted the 2016 Academy Awards, saying her boycott of the ceremony as part of the #Oscarssowhite protest was redundant, as she wasn’t invited.
Rock let it be known that he would not press charges. And their mutual friend, rapper Sean “Diddy” Combs, claimed that the pair had made up afterwards. “It’s all love,” he told reporters, “they’re brothers.”
To those who know Smith only from his films, it was an astonishing night. But to anyone who has read his recently published memoir, Will, the behaviour is likely to have its roots in his turbulent childhood. And to those who follow the ups and downs of his personal life, it was just the latest chapter in the strange world of the Smiths.
No celebrity couple has over-shared quite so much as this one. Their marriage, their extra-marital liaisons, their sex life – it’s all out there, either in Pinkett Smith’s Red Table Talk show on Facebook; essentially a family therapy session to which we’re all invited – or Smith’s book.
Smith has spoken about the precise moment that the couple’s first child, Jaden, was conceived. They were in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. “Jada was on top of me as the sweet crescendo simultaneously crept upon us,” he recalled. As “the majestic movement reached its culmination”, Pinkett Smith announced: “I’m pregnant.” She was.
Will Smith, right, hits presenter Chris Rock on stage while presenting the award for best documentary feature at the Oscars.Credit:AP
The couple met in 1994, when Pinkett Smith auditioned (unsuccessfully) for a role as Smith’s girlfriend in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Smith was married at the time, to first wife Sheree Zampino, but declared that it was “love at first sight”. They got together after his divorce. Long rumoured to have an open marriage, Pinkett Smith said in 2013 that “Will and I both can do whatever we want, because we trust each other to do so. This does not mean we have an open relationship … this means we have a grown one.”
Whatever that means.
But the couple did separate for a period, during which Pinkett Smith had an “entanglement” (her words) with August Alsina, a rapper two decades her junior. Pinkett Smith, her husband has said, never believed in “conventional marriage” and had “questions about the viability of monogamy”.
Smith has declared that he and Pinkett Smith are life partners, regardless of what happens in their marriage: “There’s no deal breakers.” He speaks regularly of his love for her, but appears to have approached their relationship with the same level of control he applies to his career.
On a solo trip to India’s Taj Mahal, Smith marvelled at this monument to love – which took more than 20 years to build, 20,000 artisans to craft, and the equivalent of a billion dollars to fund – and saw something of himself in it. “I related to Emperor Shah Jahan … I wanted everything around me to be the grandest and most magnificent that anyone had ever seen. Powered by burning passion, my creative impulses would forge the finest expression of anything I touched: movies, music, family, children, businesses, marriage.”
He bought Pinkett Smith a 256-acre ranch that she didn’t like – she thought it was far too big – and insisted they live in it, calling it Her Lake. He spent three years planning her 40th birthday party, hiring an entire hotel in New Mexico and putting on three days of activities which culminated in a documentary about her life. Smith had tracked down a descendant of the family that owned Pinkett Smith’s ancestors during the days of slavery, and persuaded him (an accountant from Ohio) to make a formal apology. Smith basked in the tears of the assembled friends and family, but Pinkett Smith sat stony-faced; later she told him: “That was the most disgusting display of ego I have ever seen in my life.”
At a couples’ therapy session, they were asked to write down their biggest priorities. Pinkett Smith put their children first. Smith chose himself. When the couple decided to separate, Smith told her: “I retire from trying to make you happy.”
That separation prompted a midlife crisis. He tried the Hollywood star’s answer to 40 days and nights in the wilderness: 14 days alone in his house in Utah, “preparing my own meals for the first time in 30 years”. He got high on the potent hallucinogen ayahuasca, in the company of a Peruvian shaman who looked like Meryl Streep.
His therapist, Michaela Boehm – an expert in Jungian psychology, trauma and tantric sexuality – told him to retire Uncle Fluffy. She also asked him: “If you could have any life you wanted, what would it be?” Smith’s answer? He would have a harem, with Halle Berry and the ballet dancer Misty Copeland, among the members (there is no suggestion that they knew anything about this). But at some point he and Pinkett Smith were reconciled, although it is unclear if her views on monogamy have changed.
Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith, earlier in the night, arriving at the Oscars.Credit:AP
Smith no longer wants to play the PR game, but to let his feelings out. Recently, he has admitted to some mistakes. He acknowledges that he became an “insane, overbearing” father when guiding the careers of his offspring, Willow and Jaden. Willow became a pop star aged nine with a hit single, Whip My Hair.
She toured the world, but Smith paid no heed when she told him she’d had enough. In desperation, the little girl shaved all of her hair off, thus ensuring that she could no longer perform her trademark song. She is now back in the music business, aged 21; Jaden, 23, a child star in his father’s films and a remake of The Karate Kid, continues to act and sing.
The two children, along with Trey, Smith’s child from his first marriage, accompanied him to the Oscars. Jaden showed his supported by tweeting: “And That’s How We Do It”, after his father’s on-stage altercation and subsequent Oscar win.
An Academy Award is the pinnacle of an actor’s career, but Smith is unlikely to be satisfied. He has single-mindedly pursued success, adopting a life of unwavering discipline that involved going without Christmas dinner so he could “extend my lead” over Hollywood rivals by looking gym-toned in January. He resolved to be the biggest movie star in the world, studying Tom Cruise’s promotional schedule for tips, and achieved it – eight consecutive number one films, from Men in Black II (2002) to Hancock (2008) and a vast fortune. But none of it appears to have made him content. To find a reason for that – and for his violent outburst on stage – you need look no further than the first page of the first chapter of Will. He recalls watching his father, Willard Smith, a volatile drunk, punching his mother, Caroline, in the head so hard that she collapsed. Smith was then aged nine. “That moment in that bedroom, probably more than any other moment in my life, has defined who I am today,” he writes. “Within everything that I have done since then – the awards and accolades, the spotlights and the 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 that moment. For failing to stand up to my father. For being a coward.”
He has spoken of feeling shame that his younger brother, Harry, always stood up to their father (once yelling, during a beating: “You can hit me, but you can’t make me cry”). Smith chose instead to be the family’s entertainer, making everyone laugh, as an attempt to defuse the tension. In common with many children from abusive backgrounds, his feelings towards his father were complicated: “My father tormented me,” he has said. “And he was also one of the greatest men I’ve ever known.” Willard died in 2016.
Despite all the years of therapy, the actor remains haunted by his mother’s distress. In that context, Smith leaping up to defend his wife’s honour makes a kind of sense.
But to do it with violence is a worrying sign, and gives the lie to the promotional blurb for his book: “Will is the story of how one exceptional man mastered his own emotions.”
The Telegraph UK
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