Will Smith establishes right at the beginning that he has had a complicated relationship with his late father, William Carroll Smith Sr.
Editor's note: This article was originally published on November 12, 2021. It has since been updated.
Sometimes we laughed, sometimes we cried, and sometimes we found ourselves on the edge of the seat rooting for the characters played by Will Smith. Just like the complexity of various roles that Smith has played over the years, his life too has been extremely complicated, more than anyone ever knew. In his new memoir Will, the 53-year-old bares his heart out about painful family secrets that almost led him into a dark path. In an excerpt shared with PEOPLE, the actor talks about a traumatic childhood incident involving his late father that left him scarred for years.
At the beginning of the book, Smith establishes the fact that he has had a complicated relationship with William Carroll Smith Sr., who raised him and his three siblings alongside his mother Caroline Bright in Philadelphia. "My father was violent, but he was also at every game, play, and recital," he notes. "He was an alcoholic, but he was sober at every premiere of every one of my movies. He listened to every record. He visited every studio. The same intense perfectionism that terrorized his family put food on the table every night of my life."
Next, the actor and rapper recalls witnessing a terrifying act of violence that his father committed against his mother. "When I was nine years old, I watched my father punch my mother in the side of the head so hard that she collapsed. I saw her spit blood," he writes, noting how this moment changed his life forever. "That moment in that bedroom, probably more than any other moment in my life, has defined who I am." This tremendous mental trauma would go on to haunt Smith for the years to come.
"Within everything that I have done since then — the awards and accolades, the spotlights and attention, the characters and the laughs — there has been a subtle string of apologies to my mother for my inaction that day. For failing her in the moment. For failing to stand up to my father. For being a coward," he shares before explaining how that trauma affected his career and the rest of his life. "What you have come to understand as 'Will Smith,' the alien-annihilating MC, the bigger-than-life movie star, is largely a construction – a carefully crafted and honed character – designed to protect myself. To hide myself from the world. To hide the coward," he adds.
His parents separated when he was just a teen and the divorce was finalized in 2000. Despite the split, Smith maintained a close relationship with his father. However, the anger that festered in him following the trauma he suffered during childhood surfaced decades later as he cared for Will Sr., who had cancer. "One night, as I delicately wheeled him from his bedroom toward the bathroom, a darkness arose within me. The path between the two rooms goes past the top of the stairs. As a child, I'd always told myself that I would one day avenge my mother. That when I was big enough, when I was strong enough, when I was no longer a coward, I would slay him," the Men In Black star writes of the sinister thought that plagued his mind momentarily.
"I paused at the top of the stairs. I could shove him down, and easily get away with it. As the decades of pain, anger, and resentment coursed then receded, I shook my head and proceeded to wheel Daddio to the bathroom," he continues. Will Sr. died in 2016 and it was after his passing that Smith finally reflected on the turbulent relationship he had with him and what it taught him about finding true fulfillment. "There is nothing that you can receive from the material world that will create inner peace or fulfillment. In the end, it will not matter one single bit how well [people] loved you — you will only gain 'the Smile' based on how well you loved them," he expresses.
Cover image source: Getty | Photo by Carlos Alvarez