Biography of Will Smith 2024

Will Smith was born on September 25, 1968 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. His full name is Willard Carroll Smith Jr. His mother’s name is Caroline and his father is Willard Carroll Smith Sr.

Smith grew up in a loving but strict household in the Wynnefield neighborhood of West Philadelphia. His father owned a refrigeration company and his mother worked for the school board. Smith has three siblings – an older sister Pamela and younger twins Ellen and Harry.

Family and Schooling

Smith went to Overbrook High School in West Philadelphia. He was excellent student and very popular – he was nicknamed “Prince” in a nod to his charming and friendly personality. Smith was also gifted athletically – he played basketball, football, baseball and even a little soccer.

However, Smith’s home life took a difficult turn when he was 13 years old. His parents divorced and his father became an alcoholic. Smith has said this was a very traumatic and unstable period in his adolescence.

AgeLife Event
0-12 yearsHappy, middle-class upbringing in West Philadelphia
13 yearsParents divorced, father became an alcoholic
13-16 yearsDifficult period in adolescence

Smith was able to find a creative and positive outlet during those tough teenage years – music. He became very skilled at rapping and began performing at parties and events around the city. He had dreams of making it big as a hip hop star.

Breakthrough Success with DJ Jazzy Jeff

Smith’s life took a pivotal turn when he met Jeff Townes at a party in 1985. Townes, better known as DJ Jazzy Jeff, was also an aspiring hip hop artist. Smith and Townes immediately clicked and began collaborating on songs together.

Early Songs and Personas

They performed together under the name DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince. Smith took on the persona of the Fresh Prince – a comedic, lighthearted entertainer compared to other hardcore rappers of the time. Their music was PG-rated but very catchy and funny.

Some of DJ Jazzy Jeff & Fresh Prince’s early hits included:

  • “Girls Ain’t Nothing But Trouble” in 1986
  • “Parents Just Don’t Understand” in 1988
  • “A Nightmare on My Street” in 1988
  • “I Think I Can Beat Mike Tyson” in 1989

The songs incorporated storytelling, humor and family-friendly lyrics about Smith’s experiences growing up in West Philadelphia. And audiences of all backgrounds responded very positively.

First Grammy and Becoming Millionaires

In 1989, DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince won the first ever Grammy awarded for Best Rap Performance for their song “Parents Just Don’t Understand.” Their album [And In This Corner…] was also nominated for a Grammy.

With their growing success, Smith and Townes became millionaires by the time they were just 20 years old. From a financial perspective, they had truly made it big.

End of DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince

However, by the early 1990s, the popularity of DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince began to decline as hardcore gangsta rap dominated the hip hop scene. They released one more album [Homebase] in 1991 before deciding to part ways amicably to explore solo projects.

Transition into Acting

As DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince were winding down, Smith got the opportunity to audition for a new NBC sitcom centered around a street-smart kid from Philadelphia getting sent out west to live with wealthy relatives in Los Angeles.

Essentially, the show was based directly on Smith’s own life story translated onto the TV screen. Not surprisingly, Smith’s natural comedic talent and expressiveness made him perfect for the starring role in “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.”

Move to Los Angeles

So at just 22 years old, Will Smith made the move from West Philly to LA in 1990 to film the show. Most of his acting experience up to that point had just been from his music videos.

The cast of the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air grew very close working together. Smith has said they became like a second family that helped him thrive during a challenging transitional period.

Success of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air

While critics had low expectations at first, audiences immediately connected with the warmth, humor and cultural commentary of Fresh Prince. The charisma between Smith and his cast members was undeniable.

The show ran successfully for six seasons from 1990 to 1996. It cemented Will Smith as a star that could truly do it all – rap, act, tell jokes. He seemed like the funniest guy in America that everyone wanted to be friends with.

“After the show ended, I knew exactly what I wanted to do with my career – big budget blockbuster movies.” – Will Smith

Blockbuster Movie Star

As Fresh Prince wrapped up, Will Smith set his sights on transitioning into major Hollywood film roles. While he landed a part in the drama Six Degrees of Separation in 1993 to prove his acting chops, Smith knew he was made for starring roles in big action movies.

Transition to Leading Man

He turned down a role in Quentin Tarantino’s hit film Pulp Fiction to instead lobby for the lead in the Jerry Bruckheimer action flick Bad Boys. His charm and persistence paid off when producers decided to take a chance on Smith as a headlining action star.

The big budget buddy-cop movie with Martin Lawrence turned out to be hugely popular around the world, grossing over $140 million dollars. Will Smith’s prowess as a leading man and global box office draw was validated.

Peak Stardom

Then in 1996, Smith reached a new level of intergalactic stardom as Captain Steven Hiller in Independence Day. At this point, every movie Smith released became a cultural event. Audiences simply loved watching him on screen.

Some examples of Smith’s string of 90s blockbuster hits included:

  • Independence Day (1996) – $817 million
  • Men in Black (1997) – $589 million
  • Enemy of the State (1998) – $250 million
  • Wild Wild West (1999) – $222 million

Will Smith was now widely considered the #1 movie star in the world during this peak. He set salary records with payouts over $20 million per movie along with profit participation. Everyone wanted him in their films.

Award Recognition

With Will Smith’s films now grossing over $3 billion dollars globally through the late 1990s, it seemed inevitable for him to earn some major award recognition for his star turns.

First Oscar Nomination

And finally in 2002, his performance as the iconic boxer Muhammad Ali in Michael Mann’s Ali earned Smith his first Oscar nomination for Best Actor.

While he did not win, this first recognition from the Academy validated Will Smith not just as a movie star but also as an excellent dramatic actor. Smith also earned Golden Globe and BAFTA nominations for Ali as well.

“I’ve always said that if I don’t win ever, I’ll live with Ali being my nomination. But I do want that statue!” – Will Smith

Unfortunately, despite earning $100+ million paychecks for hits like I, Robot, Hitch and The Pursuit of Happyness over the next several years, Will did not receive another Oscar nomination again for 15 more years.

Second Nomination and Oscar Win

Finally, in 2022, Smith won over critics and audiences with his performance as Richard Williams, the father of Venus and Serena Williams, in King Richard. He earned nominations from the Golden Globes, Critics’ Choice Awards, BAFTAs and finally his second Oscar nomination for Best Actor.

On March 27, 2022, Will Smith finally earned his Academy Award after 32 years in show business. In an emotional and controversial speech, he apologized for an incident earlier in the evening and mentioned Richard Williams as a fierce defender of his family who Smith embodied in that moment.

While there was both applause and criticism, Smith had finally achieved his dream that many thought may never come true after so many legendary films and performances. But ultimately, his extraordinary body of work spoke for itself to cement his legacy.

Off-Screen Relationships

During the run of Fresh Prince in 1991, Will married Sheree Zampino after very briefly dating for only a few months. In 1992 they had a son named Willard Smith III who they called “Trey.”

Unfortunately, the marriage only last 3 years before they divorced amicably in 1995. They remain friends as co-parents.

Current Marriage to Jada Pinkett Smith

In 1997, Will reconnected with actress Jada Pinkett who he had previously met back in 1994 when she auditioned for the role of his girlfriend on the Fresh Prince of Bel Air. Clearly, sparks were flying between the two of them.

After two years of dating, Will and Jada married in 1997. Despite tabloid rumors over the years, Will has repeatedly said Jada is his life partner and that they will always be together no matter what.

“Divorce can’t be an option… her and I get together we’re gonna be together till we die. It’s ride or die.” – Will Smith on Jada

Jada and Will have had two children of their own together: son Jaden (born 1998) and daughter Willow (born 2000). Both kids were able to thrive under Will and Jada’s parenting, guiding them into creative careers like fashion, music and filmmaking without putting too much pressure or limits on the children.

Career Evolution in the 2000s/2010s

While Will Smith remained an A-list movie star throughout the 2000s, he began strategically evolving his career by transitioning between three major buckets of projects:

  1. Big budget blockbusters
  2. Oscar-contending passion projects
  3. Helping his family and mentees blossom


Will still delivered big hits playing more fatherly or mentor-type roles in films like Hitch, The Pursuit of Happyness, and the Bad Boys sequel focused on explosive action that thrilled audiences globally and especially overseas.

Passion Projects

Alternating with blockbusters, Will sought out acclaimed directors and weightier true stories like Michael Mann’s Ali, The Legend of Bagger Vance with Robert Redford, and Concussion highlighting traumatic brain injuries in football.

Supporting His Family and Community

Will also focused time on helping his wife Jada produce films, supporting his son Jaden’s foray into acting including The Karate Kid remake, and guiding his daughter Willow’s development as a recording artist.

Furthermore, Smith stayed dedicated to promoting young talent in the entertainment industry who he could mentor through his production company including Jordyn Woods, Lauren London, and even YouTube stars.

“That’s what I live for now, passing knowledge to young up-and-coming talent.”

Current Projects and Plans

Even in his 50s, Will Smith continues working as hard as ever – seeming to truly live by his quote “I don’t stop when I’m tired, I stop when I’m done.”

He stays busy with various film and TV projects through his media company Westbrook Inc that he co-founded with Jada Pinkett Smith.

Upcoming Movies

Some of Will’s current movies in development or prepping for production include Bad Boys 4, I Am Legend 2, Bright 2 with director David Ayer, and an autobiographical movie project rumored to focus on his early life journey before getting into acting.

Westbrook Partnerships and Content

Westbrook continues making moves striking an exclusive podcast deal with Spotify to expand their content offerings. There are also rumors that Netflix, Disney, Apple and others are courting possibly huge deals with the company.

In terms of TV, Westbrook produces Red Table Talk hosted by Jada Pinkett Smith, along with other web series and content distributed digitally to their 5 million YouTube subscribers.

Will remains focused for now on rehabilitating his public image after the Oscars incident while continuing to build his legacy with more film projects and positive impact.

Knowing Will, he will have some surprises in store and more iconic roles left to play in his stellar career with many more years still ahead. Perhaps political ambitions are still on the horizon as well.


In summary, Will Smith’s extraordinary life story is one of resilience, endless ambition, courage to grow and adapt beyond expectations, combined with off-the-charts natural talent and charisma making him a force of nature in the entertainment industry for over 30 years and counting.

He embodied the American Dream spirit starting from humble West Philadelphia beginnings before breaking barriers and rising to achieve wild success across music, television and film – earning himself the description of certified “King of All Media.”

But perhaps most special is the joy and creative passion Smith seems to breathe into every project and role… always remembering his original dream to “make music, make people laugh and be rich.” Well, mission clearly accomplished and then some!

Will Smith has certainly lived one of the most meaningful underdog stories that touched all corners of culture and represented positivity for generations. He has impacted lives on a global scale while always remembering family and community first.

Here’s to the next chapter and continued positive evolution of Will Smith’s endless pursuit of greatness. The man who first won over audiences as The Fresh Prince now reigns as the creative King with that hip hop spirit forever guiding his glow.

Frequently Asked Questions

When and where was Will Smith born?

Will Smith was born on September 25th, 1968 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He grew up in the Wynnefield neighborhood of West Philly.

How did Will Smith get started with music?

Will Smith started rapping and putting out music with DJ Jazzy Jeff (Jeff Townes) as a teenager in 1985. They met at a party and quickly realized they had great creative chemistry making humorous, family-friendly rap songs together.

What was Will Smith’s big break?

DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince won the first ever Grammy for Best Rap Performance in 1989 for their song “Parents Just Don’t Understand.” This major recognition kicked Will’s music career into high gear.

How did Will Smith transition into acting?

NBC signed Will to star in a pilot focused on his life story moving from Philly to Bel Air. It got picked up as the hit show The Fresh Prince of Bel Air which ran from 1990 to 1996 and launched his acting career.

What was Will Smith’s first major movie role?

In 1995 during later seasons of Fresh Prince, Will Smith co-starred alongside Martin Lawrence in Michael Bay’s action comedy film Bad Boys. Its box office success confirmed that Will could headline major Hollywood movies.

How many Oscars has Will Smith won?

Will Smith won one Best Actor Academy Award in 2022 for his performance as Richard Williams, father to Venus and Serena Williams, in King Richard – 32 years after his first TV role!