Martin Lawrence

Published September 14th, 2000 - 02:00 GMT

Occupation: Actor, Comedian, Director, Producer, Writer 

Date of Birth: April 16, 1965 

Place of Birth: Frankfurt, Germany 

Sign: Sun in Aries, Moon in Libra 

Relations: Ex-wife: Patricia Southall; kid: Jasmin 

Education: Graduate of Eleanor Roosevelt High School, Landover, Maryland 


 

Lawrence's flair for pushing the limits comes from an average childhood spent engaging in mild clowning and sports. His Air Force roaming came to an abrupt end when the family moved to Maryland Martin’s father left. Martin was in grade school at the time. Lawrence's mother, Cholora, was left to support her six children with a series of cashiering positions in local department stores. For the amateur comedian Martin, trying to make his overworked mother laugh after her long days at work became the ultimate test of his talents. Throughout his youth, Lawrence dabbled in sports, and he was even a 90-pound Golden Gloves contender in the Mid-Atlantic region. But his true career aspirations would take him out of the ring and onto the stage. In school, his penchant for lesson subversion reached critical mass one day when an overtaxed art teacher agreed to reserve the last five minutes of class for him to do his stand-up routine in exchange for his promise to stop disrupting the class. As legend has it, Lawrence brought down the house with his impromptu performance, and from then on, his sights were firmly set on becoming a comedian.  

His career in comedy got off to a promising start with a post-high-school-graduation appearance on Star Search, but Lawrence would go on from that fairly tame performance to rapidly acquire a reputation for extreme bawdiness. His NC-17 brand of humor served him well in his capacity as the crowd-pleasing, bug-eyed emcee of HBO's Def Comedy Jam. The tireless young comic supplemented his club gigs with other cable-TV appearances, and he eventually caught the eye of filmmaker Spike Lee, who, in 1989, gave him a small role in his acclaimed film Do the Right Thing. Two scene-stealing performances in the House Party films and a supporting role opposite Eddie Murphy in 1992's Boomerang followed. Just when it appeared that his luck couldn't get any better, Fox TV offered Lawrence his own sitcom.  

Lawrence will long be remembered for Martin, as much for the success of the show as for the troubling details surrounding its demise. Enlisting the talent of his House Party co-star Tisha Campbell, Lawrence created a sitcom based on the lives of a Detroit disc jockey named Martin and his uptown executive girlfriend Gina Campbell. The risqué, locker-room-style innuendo that characterized the couple's on-screen banter turned Martin into a reliable ratings performer, and over the course of its successful five-season run, the show garnered two NAACP Image Awards for its enlightened representation of black characters on a network television show. Although detractors, Bill Cosby among them, criticized the sitcom for reinforcing the stereotype of the insensitive and oversexed black man, Lawrence received ample praise for his attempt to portray what has been characterized by some observers as the soul of the urban black male experience. In addition to his sitcom duties and nascent film career, Lawrence staged concert appearances at Radio City Music Hall in New York City, which broke attendance records previously held by Eddie Murphy. In 1995, Lawrence married former Miss Virginia and Miss USA first runner-up, Patricia Southall, in a lavish ceremony boasting thirty-six attendants and a guest list of over six hundred that included Lawrence's celebrity friends Eddie Murphy and Will Smith. All seemed to be right with his world, at least on the surface.  

But beneath his devil-may-care facade, the sitcom star was grappling with his personal problems. Well-publicized run-ins with the law were mere outward manifestations of the erratic behavior that had long troubled his family and co-workers. Following a violent outburst by Lawrence on the set of his film A Thin Line Between Love and Hate, his family retained a live-in nurse, and the actor began to take psychotropic medication for what his psychiatrist termed "paranoia." The seas remained calm until May of 1996, when, suffering from "exhaustion and dehydration," Lawrence was caught brandishing a pistol and yelling at passers-by at a busy Ventura Boulevard intersection in Los Angeles. Lawrence's publicist denied that drugs were involved, offering little in the way of explanation beyond the misguided rhetorical question, "Who doesn't carry a gun when at his stature and success? It's not uncommon at all in Hollywood." Lawrence had trouble with a firearm again in July, when he racked up two years of probation for attempting to clear an airport metal detector with an unregistered and loaded 9mm Baretta pistol in his luggage. In the wake of Lawrence's arrest for that stunt, his family checked him into a drug rehabilitation center in Arizona. According to his wife, Lawrence left the clinic within two days, and soon thereafter assaulted her, allegedly because he was angry that his private nurse had been give a few days off without his knowledge. Following the attack, Patricia acquired a temporary restraining order against her husband; moved into a hotel with their daughter Jasmin; and hired a private security firm to protect them. Lawrence responded by serving his spouse of 20 months with divorce papers, in which he claimed "irreconcilable differences."  

Lawrence's bad press wasn't over yet. In November 1996, Tisha Campbell left Martin, citing Lawrence's escalating sexual harassment as the reason for her departure. She was promptly sued by the show's producers; Campbell filed a counter suit alleging that HBO failed to protect her from Lawrence, and she demanded an unspecified amount in damages for the extreme mental stress she suffered as a result of her experiences on the set. Campbell eventually agreed to finish out the fifth season on the condition that Lawrence was absent from the show's soundstage while she filmed her scenes. Needless to say, the show's writers and producers were forced to tap all their reserves of creativity to maintain the illusion of domestic bliss between the two actors, who were no longer conversant. Lawrence maintains that Campbell's real beef is with HBO Independent Productions, producers of the now-defunct Martin, and that scapegoating him provided a convenient escape hatch from her contractual obligations.  

Loath as he has been to address his own problems, it remains to be seen whether Lawrence is capable of fulfilling his considerable promise as an entertainer. For his part, he portrayed the end of his successful sitcom as a conscious career choice, one that freed him up to pursue film work. His debut offering as director-producer-writer, A Thin Line Between Love and Hate was an unsatisfactory, mish-mash effort, but he was reportedly paid between $6 and $7 million for his role opposite Tim Robbins in the 1997 comedy Nothing to Lose, which he followed up with a turn alongside Eddie Murphy in the 1999 prison comedy Life and a starring role in the burglar comedy Blue Streak. He was large and in charge in the Summer 2000 comedy Big Momma's House, in which he played an FBI agent out to capture a bank robber who dons prosthetic makeup to portray a zaftig Southern matriarch.  


 

MOVIES: 


 

2000 Big Momma’s House 

1999 Blue Streak 

1999 Life 

1997 Nothing To Lose 

1996 A Thin Line Between Love and Hate 

1995 Bad Boys 

1992 Boomerang 

1991 Talkin’ Dirty After Dark 

1989 Do the Right Thing 

1994 You So Crazy 


 

TV: 


 

1994 Saturday Night Live  

1993 Def Comedy Jam  

1992-1997 Martin  

1987-1988 What's Happening Now!  

1987 Star Search  


 

MUSIC: 


 

1995 Funk It  

1993 Martin Lawrence Live: Talkin' Shit  

© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)

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