What do you do for an encore when you're a highly successful recording artist and you have your own hit TV show before you're 30? Well, if you're Will Smith, you also manage to cram in two back-to-back box office smashes—Independence Day (1996), Men in Black (1997)—and get married to another rising Hollywood star—Jada Pinkett.
Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Will was the second of four children and started rapping at parties when he was 12. He grew up in middle class West Philadelphia and got the nickname 'Prince' because of the way he could charm his way out of trouble.
Beginning his career in the music industry, Will teamed with DJ Jazzy Jeff (whom he met at a party) to become a chart-topping rap artist. Together, they recorded several platinum and multi-platinum albums, in addition to winning numerous awards including two Grammys and three American Music Awards.
However, by the time he was eighteen, Will had squandered much of his fortune and was in debt to the IRS. In 1989, he met Benny Medina, who had an idea for a sitcom based on his life in Beverly Hills. Thus, the hit television show Fresh Prince of Bel Air was born, which ran for six years and garnered Smith two Golden Globe Award nominations and two Image Award nominations for his work.
While the show was still running, Will ventured out to do feature film work. Following roles in Where the Day Takes You (1992) and Made in America (1993), he scored critical approval as a young, gay con man pretending to be Sidney Poitier's son in Six Degrees of Separation (1993). He also scored a decent helping of controversy, thanks to remarks he made in an interview that were perceived as homophobic. Two years later, Will found his first major commercial success alongside Martin Lawrence in the action flick Bad Boys (1995).
On his way up the popularity scale, Will struck gold when he starred in two of the highest grossing films of the '90s. Independence Day and Men in Black catapulted Smith onto a whole new plane of stardom.
As for what's pushed him to achieve all that he has in such a short amount of time, he says, "I'm above average in talent, but where I think I excel is psychotic drive. All I need is for somebody to say I can't do something and this crazy switch inside me makes me attack whatever I'm doing. Psychotic drive is where I excel over people that are probably more naturally gifted."
In addition to the fame and fortune, Men in Black turned out to be a lucrative enterprise for him off-screen as well, as his theme-song single also became a hit. Its success inspired him to begin rapping again, and that same year he released Big Willie Style.
Smith's following films such as Enemy of the State (1998), Wild Wild West (1999) and The Legend of Bagger Vance (2000) were in no way as successful as these two, but fared well at the box office. For the beginning of the new millennium, Smith returned to the Men in Black success wave with the sequel Men in Black 2 (2002), and Ali (2001). The latter of which earned Smith his first Academy Award nomination for Best Actor. Smith did more films, including Hancock (2008), Men in Black 3 (2012), Focus (2015) and Suicide Squad (2016). He also received a Golden Globe nomination for his work in the dramatic biopic Concussion (2015).
He and Pinkett have two children, son Jaden Christopher Syre and daughter Willow Camille Reign. Smith also has a son, Trey, from a previous marriage. His son Jaden made his movie debut at age seven opposite his dad in The Pursuit of Happyness (2006). The movie was a box office hit, and earned Will his second Academy Award nomination for Best Actor. They appeared in a second movie together several years later, called After Earth (2013). His daughter Willow also acts, and appeared with him in his movie I Am Legend (2007).
Will most recently played the Genie in the Disney movie Aladdin (2019) and then played double roles in Ang Lee's Gemini Man (2019). In 2020, he returned to reprise his role in Bad Boys for Life, alongside Martin Lawrence.