Family and early life
Born and raised in the Wynnefield section of West Philadelphia, Smith also lived in Germantown in Northwest Philadelphia. His mother, Caroline (née Bright), was a school administrator who worked for the Philadelphia school board, and his father, Willard Christopher Smith, Sr., was a refrigeration engineer. He was raised Baptist. His parents separated when he was thirteen, and did not actually divorce until around 2000.
It is untrue, though widely reported, that Smith turned down a scholarship to attend the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT); he never applied to the school, although he was admitted to a "pre-engineering program" there. According to Smith, "My mother, who worked for the School Board of Philadelphia, had a friend who was the admissions officer at MIT. I had pretty high SAT scores and they needed black kids, so I probably could have gotten in. But I had no intention of going to college."
The show was successful and began his acting career. Smith set for himself the goal of becoming "the biggest movie star in the world," studying box office successes' common characteristics. His first major roles were in the drama Six Degrees of Separation (1993) and the action film Bad Boys (1995) which he starred opposite of Martin Lawrence.
In 1996, Smith starred as part of an ensemble cast in Roland Emmerich's Independence Day. The film was a massive blockbuster, becoming the second highest grossing film in history at the time and establishing Smith as a prime box office draw. He later struck gold again in the summer of 1997 alongside Tommy Lee Jones in the summer hit Men in Black playing Agent J. In 1998, Smith starred with Gene Hackman in Enemy of the State.
He turned down the role of Neo in The Matrix in favor of Wild Wild West (1999). Despite the disappointment of Wild Wild West, Smith has said that he harbors no regrets about his decision, asserting that Keanu Reeves's performance as Neo was superior to what Smith himself would have achieved. Though in interviews subsequent to the release of Wild Wild West he stated that he "made a mistake on Wild Wild West. That could have been better."
In 2005, Smith was entered into the Guinness Book of World Records for attending a record breaking three premieres in a 24-hour time span.
He has planned to star in a feature film remake of the television series It Takes a Thief.
On December 10, 2007, Smith was recognized at Grauman's Chinese Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard. Smith left an imprint of his hands and feet outside the world renowned theater in front of many fans. Later that month, Smith starred in the film I Am Legend, released December 14, 2007. Despite marginally positive reviews, its opening was the largest ever for a film released in the United States during December. Smith himself has said that he considers the film to be "aggressively unique". A reviewer said that the film's commercial success "cemented [Smith's] standing as the number one box office draw in Hollywood." On December 1, 2008, TV Guide reported that Smith has been selected as one of America’s top ten most fascinating people of 2008 for a Barbara Walters ABC special that aired on December 4, 2008.
Smith is currently developing a film entitled The Last Pharaoh, in which he will star as Taharqa.
President Barack Obama has stated that if a film were to ever be made about his life, he would have Smith play his part, because "he has the ears". Obama stated that the two have discussed the possibility of a film based on the 2008 election, but this may not happen until the end of the Obama presidency.
Men in Black III opened on May 25, 2012. In it, Smith will play Agent J for the third time, being one of his more popular earlier roles; this coincides with the fact that it will be his first major starring role in four years.
On August 19, 2011, it was announced that Smith had returned to the studio with producer La Mar Edwards to make a new album. Edwards has worked with artists such as T.I., Chris Brown, and Game. Smith's most recent album was released in 2005.
Smith and his son, Jaden, are currently filming After Earth, which is set for a 2013 release.
Smith was raised by his parents in West Philadelphia. Smith credits his father's dedication when discussing his involvement in the lives of his own children: "I look at my father and how he was able to keep four kids fed and clothed and still managed to find time to spend with us." Smith married Sheree Zampino in 1992. They had a son, Willard Christopher Smith III, also known as "Trey", but divorced in 1995. Trey appeared in his father's music video for the 1998 single "Just the Two of Us".
Smith married actress Jada Pinkett in 1997. Together they have had two children: Jaden Christopher Syre (born 1998), his co-star in The Pursuit of Happyness, and Willow Camille Reign (born 2000), who appeared as his daughter in I Am Legend. Along with his brother, Harry Smith, he owns Treyball Development Inc., a Beverly Hills-based company named after his first son. Smith and his family reside on Star Island in Miami Beach, Florida and in Los Angeles, Stockholm, Sweden and Philadelphia.
Smith was consistently listed in Fortune Magazine's "Richest 40" list of the forty wealthiest Americans under the age of 40. He donated $4,600 to the presidential campaign of Democrat Barack Obama. On December 11, 2009, Smith and his wife hosted the Nobel Peace Prize Concert in Oslo, Norway, when Obama had won the prize.
Smith has said he has studied multiple religions, including Scientology, and he has said many complimentary things about Scientology and other faiths. Despite his praise of Scientology, Smith said "I just think a lot of the ideas in Scientology are brilliant and revolutionary and non-religious" and "Ninety-eight percent of the principles in Scientology are identical to the principles of the Bible.... I don't think that because the word someone uses for spirit is 'thetan' that the definition becomes any different." He has denied having joined the Church of Scientology, saying "I am a Christian. I am a student of all religions, and I respect all people and all paths."
Smith gave $1.3 million to charities in 2007, of which $450,000 went to two Christian ministries, and $122,500 went to three Scientology organizations; the remaining beneficiaries included "a Los Angeles mosque, other Christian-based schools and churches, and the Yitzhak Rabin Memorial Center in Israel". Smith and his wife have also founded a private elementary school in Calabasas, California, the New Village Leadership Academy, which uses Study Technology, a teaching methodology developed by L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology. Federal tax filing showed that Will Smith donated $1.2 million to the school in 2010.
In 2012 he expressed support for the legalizing of same-sex marriage, in an endorsement of president Barack Obama's declaration to adopt this stance on the issue.