Beloved for his good looks, easygoing wit and effervescent charm both on and off screen, this hip-hop star-turned-actor has come a long way from his days rapping on the streets of Philly. Initially, Smith came to prominence as the Fresh Prince, one half of the popular rap duo DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince, which released the catchy, PG-rated hits “Summertime” and “Parents Just Don’t Understand,” the latter winning the first-ever Grammy Award for Best Rap Performance in 1988. Still immature, Smith fell victim to the pitfalls of sudden success, squandering his money and teetering on the verge of bankruptcy, but TV soon changed his life and career. Beginning in 1990, Smith lent his considerable charisma to the sitcom The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, in which he more or less played himself as a smart-alecky city kid who moves in with his stuffy, rich relatives. During his six years on the show, he launched a movie career, wisely playing roles antithetical to his small-screen persona (a gay con artist in Six Degrees of Separation, a quip-happy cop in the action comedy Bad Boys). But by 1996, Smith was ready to leave TV behind altogether. Picking his projects carefully (and often supplying songs for the soundtracks), he appeared in one blockbuster per year—Independence Day, Men in Black, Enemy of the State—between 1996 and ’98, while also releasing his first solo album, the multi-platinum Big Willie Style, in 1997. Though that slate of films didn’t highlight Smith’s versatility, they did prove his box-office appeal as the quintessential nice guy who could kick butt if needed. That nice-guy reputation extended to his personal life as well. Despite his mounting fame, Smith was never in the tabloids. Even his ex-wife, Sheree Zampino, got along with him and his new spouse, actor-singer Jada Pinkett Smith, with whom he went on to co-create and produce the successful sitcom All of Us, loosely based on their own experiences as a blended family. Although Smith was a veritable A-list star—one of the few African-American entertainers who was bankable with audiences of all races—he still longed to be taken seriously as an actor. So in the ’00s, he headlined two prestige projects back-to-back: the poorly received golf drama The Legend of Bagger Vance and the 2001 Muhammad Ali biopic Ali, a performance that earned Smith solid reviews and his first Oscar nod, though the film itself performed well below expectations at the box office. Unsurprisingly, Smith then returned to his comfort zone, appearing in the sequels to two of his earlier hits (Men in Black II and Bad Boys II) and even began producing his own vehicles, including the poorly reviewed box-office smash Hitch, which proved that perhaps critics—not parents—were the ones who just didn’t understand. However, the next year, Smith earned Oscar, Golden Globe and SAG nominations playing father to his real-life son, Jaden, in the inspirational drama The Pursuit of Happiness, which also proved to be one of his biggest commercial hits. Sci-fi blockbusters I Am Legend and Hitchcock followed in 2007 and 2008, and in 2010, Smith passed the action-hero torch down to Jaden, producing a new version of The Karate Kid starring his son as the iconic title character.
• Got the nickname “Prince” from a teacher at Philadelphia’s Overbrook High School because of his regal bearing and ability to talk his way out of trouble.
• Turned down a scholarship to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
• Teamed with Jeffrey Townes for rap duo DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince; their hit song “Parents Just Don’t Understand” won the first-ever Grammy for Best Rap Performance in 1988.
• Played a gay hustler in his first major movie role, 1993 drama Six Degrees of Separation, but refused to film an on-screen kiss with costar Anthony Michael Hall.
• For the title role in 2001 biopic Ali, put on 30 pounds of muscle and followed the actual training regimen legendary boxer Muhammad Ali used to prepare for his bouts.
• Named one of TV’s 25 Greatest Teen Idols by TV GUIDE in 2005.
• Supported then-Sen. Barack Obama during the 2008 presidential campaign; asked during the campaign what actor he’d choose to portray him in a potential film, Obama suggested Smith.
• A production company, Overbrook Entertainment, is named for the Philadelphia neighborhood in which he grew up.
• 2007, Golden Globe — Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama: Nominee
• 2002, Golden Globe — Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama: Nominee
• 1998, Grammy — Best Rap Solo Performance: Winner
• 1993, Golden Globe — Best Performance by an Actor in a Television Series – Musical or Comedy: Nominee
• 1994, Golden Globe — Best Performance by an Actor in a Television Series – Musical or Comedy: Nominee
• 2009, People’s Choice Awards — Favorite Male Movie Star: Winner
• 2006, Oscar — Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role: Nominee
• 1988, Grammy — Best Rap Performance: Winner
• 1997, Grammy — Best Rap Solo Performance: Winner
• 2010, Tony — Musical: Nominee
• 2001, Oscar — Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role: Nominee
• 2005, People’s Choice Awards — Favorite Male Action Star: Winner
• 2006, Screen Actors Guild Awards — Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role: Nominee
• 2009, People’s Choice Awards — Favorite Male Action Star: Winner
• 1991, Grammy — Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group: Winner
• 2007, Critics’ Choice Awards — Best Actor: Nominee
• 2018, Writers Guild Awards — Comedy Series: Winner
• 2002, Critics’ Choice Awards — Best Actor: Nominee
• 2016, Golden Globe — Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama: Nominee
1 “The first step is you have to say that you can.”
2 “Life isn’t how many breaths you take, but it’s the moments that take your breath away.”
3 “Money and success don’t change people; they merely amplify what is already there.”
4 “There’s no reason to have a plan B because it distracts from plan A.”
5 “In my mind, I’ve always been an A-list Hollywood superstar. Y’all just didn’t know yet.”
6 “Being realistic is the most commonly traveled road to mediocrity.”
7 “If you don’t fight for what you want, don’t cry for what you lost.”
8 “Stop letting people who do so little for you control so much of your mind, feelings, and emotions.”
9 “If you’re absent during my struggle don’t expect to be present during my success.”
10 “I don’t know what my calling is, but I want to be here for a bigger reason. I strive to be like the greatest people who have ever lived.”