Book Review: Will
by Will Smith
Publication Date: Nov 09, 2002
List Price: $30.00
Format: Hardcover, 432 pages
Imprint: Penguin Press
Publisher: Penguin Random House
Parent Company: Bertelsmann
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Book Reviewed by Robert Fleming
There are millions of success stories in America. This is one of them. Film superstar Will Smith’s memoir, Will, is almost a fantasy comprised of Yankee success, determined ambition, and sheer luck. However, what makes this book special is Smith’s bold candor about his emotions, motives, and intentions. Rising from a troubled childhood in the Wynnefield neighborhood of West Philadelphia, his soaring journey from “bubble gum” rapper to TV sitcom star to mega movie idol moves from one improbable event to another, endlessly aided by one of this society’s powerful “angels,” who guided him through self-doubt to lofty heights of fame in every facet of media.
Possibly Smith’s most important person is his father, called Daddio, an alcoholic, refrigeration engineer with a drill sergeant attitude and hair-trigger temper. The future Fresh Prince youth cowers before the parenting storms of Daddio, but his mother, aka Mom-Mom, provides some emotional balance to the boy’s adolescent confusion. However, Smith witnesses his father brutally punch her out, a bruising attack which leaves her bloody. The boy feels less than a man, less than a hard masculine male, for not protecting the woman who brought him into the world.
“In Daddio’s mind,” writes William Carroll Smith II in his memoir, “everything was life or death. He was preparing his children to thrive in a harsh world – a world that he saw as chaotic and brutal…Fear is embraced as a survival necessity. The instilling of fear is viewed as an offering of love.”
That fear serves as the driving force in Will Smith’s career. He gets his work ethic from his father, who is a hustler with a love of the greenbacks and independence. A habit of the old man, a fan of photography, enchants young Smith when the boy appears in his father’s home movies, where he tries to get his parent’s approval. “The constant fear during my childhood honed my sensitivity to every detail in my environment,” Smith writes, adding he always wanted to please. “I learned to sense anger, predict joy, and understand sadness on far greater levels than most other kids.”
Smith admits he’s “a weird kid, kinda skinny, sorta goofy.” He also confesses “my imagination is my gift, and when it merges with my work ethic, I can make money rain from the heavens.” The three themes, symbolized by his parents, and grandmother, of discipline, education and divine love would propel him forward to a “hippity-hopping” collaboration with Jeffrey Allen Townes (aka DJ Jazzy Jeff), a cancer survivor. That pair produces several chart-topping hits, competing with name hip-hop acts such as Run-DMC, L.L. Cool J, Public Enemy, 2 Live Crew, Queen Latifah, Salt–N-Pepa, and Sir Mix-A-Lot. Smith’s raucous snapshots from these early tours provide some of the highlights in the book.
Like many of the performers who found early fame, Smith blows his salary and chooses not to pay taxes, but Quincy Jones, an elite musician and cultural kingmaker, selects the Philly duo for a TV sitcom, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, launching him into a fame that seemed to take on a life of its own. “I love performing,” Smith writes. “I like the camera and more important, it likes me…I had held a secret dream for as long as I could remember…In my quietest moments, alone, there was a consistent yearning, an emotional compass that was always trained on the Hollywood sign.”
Hollywood calls Will Smith. He desires to become the most famous movie star in the world. Envious of mega-star Tom Cruise’s fame, he decides he likes music, but he loves acting. “I was hungry, focused, and excited about the new life I was being blessed to undertake,” he writes. “But my personal and professional crash and burn had taught me a harsh, universal lesson: Nothing lasts forever…I asked myself: After television, what would be my next thing? There was only one answer: movies.”
The powerbrokers in Tinseltown welcome the eager Smith and groom him to be a film idol. He uses the fear as an emotional tool to overcome challenges and obstacles to land countless roles in star vehicles. The hits keep on coming, including Bad Boys I & II, Independence Day, Men in Black, Enemy of the State, Wild Wild West, Ali, I Robot, Shark Tale, Hitch, The Pursuit of Happyness, I Am Legend, and Hancock. This box office global amounted to $8 billion thirty years ago. He also got Oscar nominations for Ali and The Pursuit of Happyness. The Smith film legacy has continued to great effect to the current hit, the biopic of the Williams tennis sisters, King Richard.
Other than candid snapshots of Hollywood royalty and pop music legends, Smith dishes not only on himself, his family, his former loves and current wife, Jada Pinkett, and children, Trey, Jaden and Willow. He treasures all of his loved ones and his hard-fought career.
“When I get to the top of this mountain, I will never be scared again. I will never be sad again. I’ll never be abused or disrespected or unloved. Everything worth living for is at the top of this mountain. And there is nothing I am unwilling to leave or do to get there. And anyone who opposes or impedes my progress is my enemy.”
Film superstar Will Smith’s memoir, Will, is the Philly native’s life unscripted, highly polished to win over more fans and readers. It’s truth-telling, delivered with a wink and a wide smile. Any reader or fan will delight in this guide of self-actualization and personal growth of one of the most popular entertainer in the world.