At the funeral of Will Smith, Jada Pinkett and Chris Rock and millions of fans burst into tears

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Willard Carroll Smith II, also known by his stage name The Fresh Prince, is an American actor, producer and rapper. Known for variety of roles, Smith has received multiple accolades, including an Academy Award, a British Academy Film Award and four Grammy Awards. As of 2023, his films have grossed over $9.3 billion globally, making him one of Hollywood’s most bankable stars

Smith began his acting career starring as a fictionalized version of himself on the NBC sitcom The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (1990–1996). He first gained recognition as part of a hip hop duo with DJ Jazzy Jeff, with whom he released five studio albums and the US Billboard Hot 100 top 20 singles “Parents Just Don’t Understand”, “A Nightmare on My Street”, “Summertime”, “Ring My Bell”, and “Boom! Shake the Room” from 1984 to 1994. He released the solo albums Big Willie Style (1997), Willennium (1999), Born to Reign (2002), and Lost and Found (2005), which contained the US number-one singles “Gettin’ Jiggy wit It” and “Wild Wild West”. He has received four Grammy Awards for his rap performances.[10]

Smith achieved wider fame as a leading man in films such as the action film Bad Boys (1995), its sequels Bad Boys II (2003) and Bad Boys for Life (2020), and the sci-fi comedies Men in Black (1997), Men in Black II (2002), and Men in Black 3 (2012). After starring in the thrillers Independence Day (1996) and Enemy of the State (1998), he received Academy Award for Best Actor nominations for his portrayal as Muhammad Ali in Ali (2001), and as Chris Gardner in The Pursuit of Happyness (2006). He then starred in a range of commercially successful films, including I, Robot (2004), Shark Tale (2004), Hitch (2005), I Am Legend (2007), Hancock (2008), Seven Pounds (2008), Suicide Squad (2016) and Aladdin (2019).[11]

For his portrayal of Richard Williams in the biographical sports drama King Richard (2021), Smith won the Academy Award, BAFTA Award, Golden Globe Award, and Screen Actors Guild Award for Best Actor.[12] At the 2022 Academy Awards ceremony, shortly before winning, Smith faced public backlash for slapping and shouting at Oscar presenter Chris Rock after Rock made a joke referencing Smith’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith. Smith subsequently resigned from the Academy and was banned from attending all Academy functions, including the Oscars, for ten years.[13]

Smith started as the MC of the hip-hop duo DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince, with his childhood friend Jeffrey “DJ Jazzy Jeff” Townes as turntablist and producer.[25] Townes and Smith were introduced to each other by chance in 1985, as Townes was performing at a house party only a few doors down from Smith’s residence, and he was missing his hype man. Smith decided to fill in. They both felt strong chemistry, and Townes was upset when his hype man finally made it to the party.[26]

Soon after, the two decided to join forces. Smith enlisted a friend to join as the beatboxer of the group, Clarence Holmes (Ready Rock C), making them a trio. Philadelphia-based Word Records released their first single in 1986 when A&R man Paul Oakenfold[27] introduced them to Champion Records with their single “Girls Ain’t Nothing but Trouble,” a tale of funny misadventures that landed Smith and his former DJ and rap partner Mark Forrest (Lord Supreme) in trouble.[28] The song sampled the theme song of “I Dream of Jeannie.” Smith became known for light-hearted story-telling raps and capable, though profanity-free, “battle” rhymes. The single became a hit a month before Smith graduated from high school.[29]

Based on this success, the duo were brought to the attention of Jive Records and Russell Simmons. The duo’s first album, Rock the House, which was first released on Word Up in 1986 debuted on Jive in March 1987. The group received the first Grammy Award for Best Rap Performance in 1989 for “Parents Just Don’t Understand” (1988), though their most successful single was “Summertime” (1991), which earned the group their second Grammy and peaked at number 4 on the Billboard Hot 100. Smith and Townes are still friends and claim that they never split up, having made songs under Smith’s solo performer credit.[30]

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