What We Know About Will Smith's Turbulent Past

When Will Smith surprised the world by walking up on stage at the 94th Annual Academy Awards so he could promptly slap presenter Chris Rock, it became one of the most memorable moments in Oscars history. While ABC let the audio go silent for a few moments after Smith walked back to his seat, other countries heard Smith tell Rock to "Keep my wife's name out of your f***ing mouth" during the heated exchange (via Deadline).

Smith was reacting to a perceivably tasteless joke Rock made about his wife, Jada Pinkett Smith. Rock said, in reference to Pinkett Smith's shaved head, "Jada, I love ya. 'G.I. Jane 2,' can't wait to see it." This prompted Smith's trek up to the stage, as Pinkett Smith recently opened up about her struggles with alopecia, a disorder that causes hair loss (via CNN).

Following Smith's violent outburst, fellow Hollywood friends Denzel Washington and Tyler Perry reportedly talked Smith down. Not long after, Smith went on to win the Oscar for best actor for his role as Richard Williams in "King Richard," the father of tennis legends Venus and Serena Williams (via ET). While Smith apologized to the Academy and fellow nominees for his outburst, it's not the first time he has had an issue with Rock, his wife, or the Oscars. 

The anger Smith expressed also stems from a turbulent past that began during his childhood.

Will Smith and Chris Rock's first Oscars feud allegedly started in 2016

This isn't the first time Will Smith had a problem with remarks made by Chris Rock at the Oscars. Rock, who was hosting the awards ceremony in 2016, made comments about Jada Pinkett Smith's career. According to CNN, Pinkett Smith, along with director Spike Lee, had called for an Oscars boycott after they felt there were not enough Black nominees in top categories — their declarations came after the nominations were announced on Martin Luther King Day. Pinkett Smith said at the time that she wasn't going to watch the Oscars, especially considering that Smith was not nominated for his role in the film "Concussion."

When the night of the Oscars arrived February 28, 2016, Rock made jokes about Pinkett Smith that her husband did not appreciate. "Jada went mad, then Will went mad, everyone went mad," Rock said (via The Mirror). "Jada got mad, you know, Jada said she's not coming, protesting, I'm like, isn't she on a TV show? She's gonna boycott the Oscars? ... That's not an invitation I would turn down, but I understand, I'm not hating."

The next night, TMZ spotted Smith outside a New York City restaurant and asked him about Rock's joke. Smith ignored the outlet's reporter and made his way to his car without commenting.

Will Smith seemed to have it all from a young age

Will Smith has been a part of the public consciousness since he was just a teen making hit rap song after hit rap song. Born in Philadelphia to Caroline Smith and Willard C. Smith, the Oscar-winner began recording songs at the age of 16 after meeting fellow rap artist Jeff Townes. They formed the duo DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince, and by 1990 Smith took his music success to Hollywood to star in "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air." He played a character named Will from Philadeliphia who gets sent to live with a rich uncle in Southern California (via Biography).

After the series ended in 1996, Smith solidified himself as a bona fide movie star in such flicks as "Independence Day," "Men In Black," "The Pursuit of Happyness," and "The Legend of Badger Vance" (via IMDb). When he married Jada Pinkett Smith in 1997, they became a true Hollywood super-couple. They're also parents of Willow Smith and Jada Smith, who started their own successful performing careers. 

But life was definitely not a fairy tale for Will Smith.

Will Smith's childhood held dark secrets

In 2021, Will Smith wrote about how difficult his childhood was in his memoir "Will". In it, he talks about an abusive father and seeing his father be violent with his mother at just 9 years old. In November 2021, he spoke about the book and the disturbing violence that changed his life with Hoda Ktob and Jenna Bush Hager on Today.

Smith admitted that the persona he puts on as a Hollywood A-lister is meant to hide the fact that he feels he is a "coward." That stems from that defining violent moment when he was just a child. "I was probably 9, and I watched my father beat up my mother," Smith confessed. Conversely, the star described himself as a "gentle kid" during a 2020 appearance on Jada Pinkett Smith's Red Table Talk

During his interview with Today, he described how he felt like he should have helped his mother, but didn't do anything in that moment. "And I was too scared to do anything. And just on my young mind, it became imprinted ... It's like, what kind of kid stands there and lets somebody hit their mother and they don't do anything, you know? And that became really the core trauma of my childhood that my personality and my persona became to form around, to be the opposite of that, you know? I was never going to be scared again."

Will Smith was able to forgive his father

Will Smith's book "Will" also explores his relationship with his father as an adult. After seeing his father beat his mother when he was just nine, he admitted that his feelings remained conflicted for years. Despite his parents divorcing when he was in his early teens, Smith had a relationship with his father until the very end. He described his father as both "violent" and "dedicated".

"He was also at every game, play, and recital. He was an alcoholic, but he was sober at every premiere of every one of my movies," Smith wrote in "Will" (via Yahoo! Entertainment). "He listened to every record. He visited every studio. The same intense perfectionism that terrorized his family put food on the table every night of my life."

After his father passed away 2016, Smith said he was finally able to move past those harrowing moments from his childhood. "And, you know, in that, in those last moments with my father, when I was able to forgive my father, I had a shocking realization that I was able to forgive myself," Smith said. "My father dying started a new phase of my life." He shared a similar sentiment during a 2018 podcast appearance on Rap Radar, according to Showbiz CheatSheet.

Will Smith expressed himself in every way during his Oscars speech

It was a life that was shaped by a disturbing childhood and worldwide fame as a teen that culminated in becoming only the fifth Black man to win in the best actor category at the Academy Awards, according to Gold Derby.

In his acceptance speech, he even offered a humorous story about his mom and how she was spending the evening.

"To my mother, a lot of this moment is really complicated for me, but to my mother — she didn't want to come out, she has her knitting friends, she has a knitting crew she's watching with — being able to love and care for my mother and my family and my wife — i'm taking up too much time — thank you for this honor." (via The Hollywood Reporter)

Smith was also humble about the incident earlier in the night, apologizing for his actions, while also likening himself to the man he won an Oscar for playing. "I want to apologize to the Academy. I want to apologize to all my fellow nominees. This is a beautiful moment and I'm not crying for winning an award," Smith said. "It's not about winning an award for me; it's about being able to shine a light on all the people ... Art imitates life. I look like the crazy father, just like they said about Richard Williams! But, love will make you do crazy things."