It’s the smack that was heard around the globe. Unless you’ve been living under a rock (pun intended), you probably haven’t missed out on the biggest event of the 2022 Academy Awards:
Comedian Chris Rock, who hosted the awards for the first time since his 2005 stint, was first heckled at following jokes made at the expense of Smith’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith. Rock, in an ill-advised move – decided to draw punchlines aimed at her shaved head. The actress and talk-show host has publicly shared her challenges with alopecia – an autoimmune disorder that results in hair loss – making the jibe even more distasteful.
Furious, Will Smith charged up the stage at a smiling Rock who caught a swift slap on his left cheek in response. While social media bubbles with debate on who was in the right, and why perhaps both men conducted themselves weakly — there’s certainly a lot of history behind feuds— physical or otherwise — that tar the history of the Fresh Prince.
Here’s five times Will Smith decided to snap back:
Long before Bad Boys, I Am Legend, The Pursuit of Happyness, and all the other bangers in Smith’s career, he was known as The Fresh Prince – one half of an iconic 1980s hip-hop duo alongside DJ Jazzy Jeff.
At just 20 in 1989, Smith’s star was already rising as his songs spread across global charts — the pair even won the world’s first rap Grammy. Eight months later, however, things took a dark turn, as Smith allegedly ordered his bodyguard to dish out a beating to record promoter William Hendricks.
Hendricks was gravely injured and nearly blinded by the assault, which landed Smith in jail, although he was eventually acquitted of all charges.
Smith addressed the assault charge in a 2005 interview saying, “It wasn’t my fault. That’s what they all say! But it wasn’t my fault. This is back in Philly. One of my buddies beat up this dude, and I was there. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.”
After the arrest mentioned above, Smith managed to deliver a stunning surprise audition and secured the role that catapulted him into Hollywood’s A-list, as the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.
Three seasons in, and Will had become more of a household name than he already had been – but not without some controversy along the way. By season 3, the showrunners abruptly dropped Janet Hubert, who played the role of Aunt Vivian, following reports of clashes between her and Smith.
As the show topped chart after chart, Smith doubled down on his issues with Hubert – both with tongue-in-cheek jokes written for the show, and in interviews. “I can say straight up that Janet Hubert wanted the show to be The Aunt Viv of Bel-Air Show, because I know she is going to dog me in the press,” said Smith in a 1993 interview. “She has basically gone from a quarter of a million dollars a year to nothing.”
Despite patching up in recent years, Hubert did agree that the feud had a very real cost for her career. “Now understand you were able to move forward but those words, calling a black woman ‘difficult’ in Hollywood, is the kiss of death. It’s the kiss of death,” said Hubert. “And it’s hard enough being a dark-skinned black woman in this business.”
Will and Jada’s marriage has been a topic of waxing and waning interest for several tabloids across the years. The two have confirmed an ‘open’ status in their 24-year-long marriage for years, explaining that it has been a ‘healthy’ and ‘spiritual’ journey for the pair.
While this may be the case today, things weren’t quite so simple back in the Nineties. Jada had attended high school and was a close, intimate friend of the legendary rapper Tupac Shakur — something which Will himself admits caused him a great deal of jealousy and stress. According to Tupac’s collaborator and friend Napoleon, Jada had to step in between the two, urging Tupac to not ‘beat up’ her then-boyfriend.
“I hated that I wasn’t what he was in the world, and I suffered a raging jealousy,” Smith wrote in his 2021 memoir, Will. “I wanted Jada to look at me like that.”
Sadly, Tupac was murdered in 1996, leading to a great personal tragedy for Jada and a missed opportunity for reconciliation with Will, who said he was ‘too immature’ to patch up with the rapper.
Sure, there’s a lot to be said regarding the Chris Rock incident and whether Smith’s physical response was valid, but here’s a situation where any of us would have reacted with a quick whack, or worse.
Vitalii Sediuk is one of the most notorious Hollywood pranksters of all time. The 33-year-old ex-reporter has made headlines for everything from burying his face in the crotch of Leonardo DiCaprio, to hiding under America Ferrara’s gown at events, prompting serious accusations of sexual misconduct and assault.
It all started, however, at the 2012 premiere of Men in Black III. While attempting to interview Smith, Sediuk suddenly leaned in and planted a kiss on the actor. Smith reacted with a swift slap, exclaiming “What the hell is your problem, man?”
He later on said “He’s lucky I didn’t sucker punch him.”
Cut to Oscars 2022. Ultimately, Smith decided to step back and along with his publicist, issued a pretty sincere-sounding apology to Rock and the Academy:
“There is no place for violence in a world of love and kindness,” he shared.
(Featured Image Credits: YouTube/Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences)