Will Smith was born and raised in the Wynnefield section of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the second of four children. He often uses the line “West Philadelphia born and raised” to describe his roots. He is a graduate of Overbrook High School.
Will Smith started his career as The Fresh Prince, the vocalist of the hip-hop duo DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince, which included childhood friend Jeffrey “DJ Jazzy Jeff” Townes as turntablist and producer. The duo was known for performing humorous, radio-friendly songs, most notably “Parents Just Don’t Understand” and “Summertime”.
Smith was a charismatic and energetic performer, and in 1990, the NBC television network signed him up and built a sitcom, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, around him. The show was successful and ran for six seasons.
Although he made a notable dramatic film debut in Six Degrees of Separation (in which he played totally against type as a gay con man) while still appearing in Fresh Prince, Smith’s movie career took off with his role in Bad Boys (1995) along with co-star Martin Lawrence.
After Fresh Prince came to an end in 1996, Smith began a successful solo career in music and simultaneously starred in a series of movies. The first two films were hugely successful summer blockbusters: Independence Day (1996), where he plays a fearless and confident fighter pilot, and Men in Black (1997), where he plays the comic and confident Agent J against Tommy Lee Jones’s deadpan Agent K. Smith’s acting in Men in Black won critical praise, and both films established Smith’s commercial reputation as a “bankable” star who had appeal across age, race, and gender, and could “open” a film at the box office.
Lead roles in Enemy of the State, Wild Wild West, Ali, Bad Boys II and I, Robot then followed. His most recent film is 2005’s Hitch. (Like Smith, Hitch co-star Kevin James starred in a sitcom named for royalty, The King of Queens.)
Smith was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor for his portrayal of the boxer Muhammad Ali in Ali. (His Ali co-star Jamie Foxx, another actor/musician/comedian, later won the award for the 2004 Ray Charles biopic Ray.)
Smith also released a string of hit singles, often associated with his most recent movie, 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” (which made jiggy a catchphrase for a while in 1998), and “Just the Two of Us”, an affecting message to his young son. His first two solo albums went platinum, but his third, on Columbia Records, was a sales disappointment compared to his past efforts, and after a quick Greatest Hits release that was almost not advertised at all, he was dropped by the label. He signed a recording contract with Interscope Records and released the so far, moderately successful Lost and Found in 2005.
On July 2, 2005, Smith served as host for the Live 8 concert in his native Philadelphia before an enormous crowd, and later performed a set with DJ Jazzy Jeff.
Smith married actress Sharee Zampino in 1992. They had a son, Willard Christopher III, also known as “Trey”. They divorced in 1995. Smith married actress Jada Pinkett in 1997. They have had two children: Jaden Christopher Syre (1998) and Willow Camille Reign (2000). Along with his brother Harry Smith, he owns Treyball Development Inc., a Beverly Hills-based company named after his first son. With all his commerical success, Will Smith is arguably the biggest star in today’s pop culture and his wealth has continued to grow as his name has continued to appear in Forbes Richest 40 under the age of 40.