Occupation: Actor, Rapper
Date of Birth: September 25, 1968
Place of Birth: Philadelphia, Pa., USA
Sign: Sun in Libra, Moon in Scorpio
Relations: Wife: Jada Pinkett Smith (actress); ex-wife: Sheree Zampino; son: Willard C. Smith III (with Zampino), Jaden Christopher Syre Smith (with Pinkett)
Education: Overbrook High School
WILL SMITH IS such a major figure in contemporary films that it's hard to believe he only made his big-screen debut in 1992.
First known by his rap name, Fresh Prince, with his partner, Jazzy Jeff (Jeff Townes), Smith became a Grammy-winning musician before launching his career as an A-list actor. Smith began rapping at age 12 and teamed up with Jazzy Jeff shortly thereafter. By the time Will was 20, the team had produced two platinum albums and become household names in middle America – no small feat for a rap act in the '80s.
Music and acting weren't Smith's only talents: he was so accomplished at science in high school that M.I.T. offered him a full scholarship; he turned it down to continue his career in the entertainment industry.
In the transition between musical stardom and action stardom was a long-running sitcom, The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, which showcased Smith as a poor teenager who lives with a wealthy white family in Beverly Hills. The series' six-year run proved to executives that the charismatic young man could act, and it introduced Smith to a network of African-Americans in Hollywood who would help to shape his career: Quincy Jones (who produced Fresh Prince), Bill Cosby, Whoopi Goldberg, Sidney Poitier and Denzel Washington.
It was Washington who incited the controversy behind Smith's first starring role, as a gay hustler in 1993's Six Degrees of Separation. Although the script called for a same-sex kiss, Washington advised Smith that, because roles were already sparse for black men, a gay kiss would kill his career. Smith refused to film the kiss, and until he apologized to the gay community, he was labeled homophobic. Despite the controversy, nobody – gay, straight or other – could argue with the actor's talent.
After 1995's Bad Boys, which co-starred Martin Lawrence, Smith's status as a box-office draw was cemented. With Independence Day the next year, he rose to A-list status. Or maybe it was 1997's Men in Black, which allowed him to both act and rap. Whatever. Smith was an It-Boy.
Currently married to his second wife, actress Jada Pinkett, Smith has continued working steadily, choosing his projects carefully: in 1998, he starred with Gene Hackman in the paranoia-inducing thriller Enemy of the State; 1999 finds him opposite Kevin Kline and Salma Hayek in the quirky Wild, Wild West.
2000 Osmosis Jones
1999 Wild Wild West
1998 Enemy of the State
1998 Welcome to Hollywood
1997 Men in Black
1996 Independence Day
1995 Bad Boys
1993 Made in America
1993 Six Degrees of Separation
1992 Where the Day Takes You
1990 Fresh Prince of Bel Air
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)