In his new memoir, Will Smith recalled a traumatic childhood incident that almost spurred him to seek vengeance against the aggressor, his father.
Willard C. Smith Sr., a refrigeration engineer and music promoter, died of cancer at age 76 in 2016. In his memoir, Will, the 53-year-old Men in Black actor wrote that while his dad was present at every game, play, and recital" during his childhood and also supported him throughout his career, he was "violent" and had attacked his then-wife and Will's mother, Caroline.
"When I was nine years old, I watched my father punch my mother in the side of the head so hard that she collapsed," Will said in the book, according to People, which printed an exclusive excerpt. "I saw her spit blood. That moment in that bedroom, probably more than any other moment in my life, has defined who I am. 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."
Will recalled in the book how he felt about his dad years later, after he was diagnosed with cancer and was so ill that he used a wheelchair.
"One night, as I delicately wheeled him from his bedroom toward the bathroom, a darkness arose within me," the actor wrote in his memoir, per People. "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."
He continued, "I paused at the top of the stairs. I could shove him down, and easily get away with it. I'm Will Smith. No one would ever believe I killed my father on purpose. I'm one of the best actors in the world. My 911 call would be Academy Award level. As the decades of pain, anger, and resentment coursed then receded, I shook my head and proceeded to wheel Daddio to the bathroom. Thank God we're judged by our actions, not by our trauma-driven, inner outbursts."
When Will's father died, the actor's ex-wife, Sheree Zampino, paid tribute to him on Instagram with a photo showing the actor with his dad and their son, Trey Smith, now 28.
Will, who is also dad to Jaden Smith, 23, and daughter Willow Smith, 21, with current wife Jada Pinkett Smith, has spoken before about seeing his father act violent toward Caroline. In 2020, on a Father's Day episode of Jada's Red Table Talk Facebook series, Will said, "I loved how my family was, but there were massive critical deficiencies in my father's parenting that I wanted to correct."
"There's such beautiful qualities that he instilled that are a big part of what made me, me," the actor continued. "And as the Yin to every Yang, I watched him beat up my mother. So the biggest emotional scar that I have in this lifetime, he delivered that also. He showed me a lot of things that I wanted to do, but he also showed me the things I would absolutely, positively never do to my children."
"He was so smart, and then when he would get angry, he would turn into the dumbest person I've ever met," Will continued. "As a kid, I couldn't understand it, but all of his wisdom disappeared. As he got older, he had cancer, amongst other things...as he got feeble and frail, I could just see the little boy in there."