Will Smith , Mark Manson
418 pages, Hardcover
First published November 9, 2021
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- Published: 28 November 2023
- ISBN: 9781529158281
- Imprint: Penguin
- Format: Paperback
- RRP: $24.99
- Film, TV & radio
- Self-help & personal development
The 'Event' Autobiography of the Year now out in paperback - a brave, inspiring and wildly entertaining memoir full of self-help lessons for readers, from one of the world's most charismatic and much-loved actors
The Instant Sunday Times Bestseller The Instant #1 New York Times Bestseller
PRAISE FOR WILL 'The best memoir I ever read' Oprah Winfrey 'If you read one book this year, make it this one' Jay Shetty 'Incredible' Idris Elba 'The book is awesome. So candid and considered...fascinating' Chris Evans 'A triumph...really inspiring, so well written, vulnerable and deep. I highly recommend it' Mindy Kaling 'It's fantastic...very moving' Zoe Ball 'Incredibly honest...inspiring' Greg James 'A wild ride' New York Times 'Raw, comedic, inspirational' GQ
One of the most dynamic and globally recognized entertainment forces of our time opens up fully about his life, in a brave and inspiring book that traces his learning curve to a place where outer success, inner happiness, and human connection are aligned. Along the way, Will tells the story in full of one of the most amazing rides through the worlds of music and film that anyone has ever had.
Will Smith's transformation from a fearful child in a tense West Philadelphia home to one of the biggest rap stars of his era and then one of the biggest movie stars in Hollywood history, with a string of box office successes that will likely never be broken, is an epic tale of inner transformation and outer triumph, and Will tells it astonishingly well. But it's only half the story.
Will Smith thought, with good reason, that he had won at life: not only was his own success unparalleled, his whole family was at the pinnacle of the entertainment world. Only they didn't see it that way: they felt more like star performers in his circus, a seven-days-a-week job they hadn't signed up for. It turned out Will Smith's education wasn't nearly over.
This memoir is the product of a profound journey of self-knowledge, a reckoning with all that your will can get you and all that it can leave behind. Written with the help of Mark Manson, author of the multi-million-copy bestseller The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck , Will is the story of how one exceptional man mastered his own emotions, written in a way that can help everyone else do the same. Few of us will know the pressure of performing on the world's biggest stages for the highest of stakes, but we can all understand that the fuel that works for one stage of our journey might have to be changed if we want to make it all the way home. The combination of genuine wisdom of universal value and a life story that is preposterously entertaining, even astonishing, puts Will the book, like its author, in a category by itself.
'The Hollywood star's autobiography is full of indiscretions, drug-fuelled escapades and terrible parenting. Who could ask for more?' Telegraph 'Candid ... digs into the life events which fine-tuned Smith's weapons-grade charisma and steely determination' Observer 'I absolutely loved it...no holds barred...I felt as if Will Smith was talking to me. It's a testament to him and to his family' Lorraine Kelly
About the authors
Will Smith is an actor, producer and musician, two-time Academy Award nominee, Grammy Award and NAACP award winner who has enjoyed a diverse career encompassing films, television and multi-platinum records.
Starting as a rapper in 1985, Smith is best known for his acting roles in "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air", I AM LEGEND, the BAD BOYS and MEN IN BLACK film series, HITCH and most recently, ALADDIN. His vast filmography also includes transformative portrayals of true-life icons in ALI and THE PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS, both which garnered him Academy Award nominations, as well as his role in CONCUSSION. Smith recently produced and starred in 2020's biggest box office hit, BAD BOYS FOR LIFE, in addition to producing and appearing in HBO Max's emotional and most watched, "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" 30th Anniversary Reunion special.
Next up, Smith will produce and star as Richard Williams, infamous father of American icons Venus and Serena Williams, in Warner Brothers' KING RICHARD, which will release on November 19th. This summer, Smith begins production on Apple's upcoming scripted action thriller EMANCIPATION, directed by Antoine Fuqua, and produced by his Westbrook Studios.
In 2019, Smith launched his media company, Westbrook Inc. alongside Jada Pinkett Smith, Miguel Melendez and Kosaku Yada, which focuses on empowering artists to tell stories that connect with a global audience. Westbrook houses Westbrook Studios, Westbrook Media, the digital content studio, social media management, and creative brand incubator, and direct to consumer business, Good Goods. Westbrook Studios is home to the Emmy® nominated Facebook Watch series, "Red Table Talk" and is rapidly expanding its footprint in entertainment, serving as the studio home to all new premium TV and motion picture projects. Smith will serve as a producer through Westbrook on his upcoming projects including KING RICHARD, EMANCIPATION, and PLANES, TRAINS & AUTOMOBILES. Westbrook Media most recently produced KING RICHARD and EMANCIPATION. Additionally, they produced the 30th anniversary reunion special of "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" and the Snap series "Will From Home." In response to the stay-at-home order "Will From Home" featured appearances by Smith's family, celebrity friends and everyday people who were also isolating indoors. The media company also recently announced Peacock's unprecedented two season order of "Bel-Air," a dramatic reimagining of the Fresh Prince series. He and his wife also founded the Will and Jada Smith Family Foundation to benefit inner-city community development, youth educational projects and under-privileged children and their families.
Instagram and Twitter: @WillSmith
Mark Manson is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Everything is F*cked: A Book About Hope and The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life , the mega-bestseller that reached #1 in fourteen different countries. Mark's books have been translated into more than 50 languages and have sold over 12 million copies worldwide.
Mark runs one of the largest personal growth websites in the world, MarkManson.net, a blog with more than two million monthly readers and half a million subscribers. His writing is often described as 'self-help for people who hate self-help' -- a no-BS brand of life advice and cultural commentary that has struck a chord with people around the globe. His writing has appeared in The New York Times , Wall Street Journal , TIME Magazine, Forbes , Vice , CNN , and Vox, among many others. He currently lives in New York City.
Instagram: @markmanson Twitter: @IAmMarkManson
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Get Powerful Life Lessons Directly From One of the Most Successful Stars on the Planet
A number of years ago, Will Smith and his team contacted me telling me that he wanted help to write a book about his life. He wanted to not only share his stories but also impart some of his life’s lessons, recounting how he overcame struggles and setbacks, survived abuse, trauma and racism, and came out the other end one of the biggest icons on the planet. Helping him write this book has been one of the honors of my career and the result is nothing short of profound.
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When Will Smith was eleven years old, his father decided he needed a new wall on the front of his shop. The laying of this wall, brick by brick, would come to define a large part of Will’s life. Learn how in this free chapter from the bestselling memoir.
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What People Are Saying
Praise for ‘will’.
Many people can live a really fantastic life. Many people can write a great book. There are few people I think who can translate a fantastic life into a fantastic book…. It’s raw… one of the most anticipated yet unexpected memoirs that has ever come out.
It shows every high, every low, and the sheer will it took you to become who you are… I love the book. It’s fantastic.
This book doesn’t waste any time… Like a lot of families, mine included, we talk about nothing. You took the carpet, you shook it, you beat it with a broom, you let it all out. … The book is so good.
Will is not just a gift for the reader but an absolutely entertaining treat as well… It’s filled with laugh out loud, nostalgic references alongside poignant, powerful, relatable life and career lessons. … While we often think of leaders as successful, powerful… and oftentimes rich, Smith reminds us that the best leaders are really vulnerable, relatable and teachable.
Will Smith isn’t holding back in his bravely inspiring new memoir… An ultimately heartwarming read, Will provides a humane glimpse of the man behind the actor, producer and musician, as he bares all his insecurities and trauma.
The real Smith, the one that yells, cries, experiences heartbreak, is much more interesting. Early on, his act gives way to images of unhealthy relationship patterns marked by people pleasing and insecurity. Elsewhere, Will rewards music fans with memories of hip-hop’s early days, when getting a song played on the radio was a crowning achievement and selling rap albums was almost inconceivable.
About the Book
One of the most dynamic and globally recognized entertainment forces of our time opens up fully about his life, in a brave and inspiring book that traces his learning curve to a place where outer success, inner happiness, and human connection are aligned.
Along the way, Will tells the story in full of one of the most amazing rides through the worlds of music and film that anyone has ever had. Will Smith’s transformation from a fearful child in a tense West Philadelphia home to one of the biggest pop stars of his era and then one of the biggest movie stars in Hollywood history, with a string of box office successes that will likely never be broken, is an epic tale of inner transformation and outer triumph, and Will tells it astonishingly well. But it’s only half the story.
Will Smith thought, with good reason, that he had won at life: not only was his own success unparalleled, his whole family was at the pinnacle of the entertainment world. Only they didn’t see it that way: they felt more like star performers in his circus, a seven-days-a-week job they hadn’t signed up for. It turned out Will Smith’s education wasn’t nearly over.
This memoir is the product of a profound journey of self-knowledge, a reckoning with all that your will can get you and all that it can leave behind. Written with the help of Mark Manson, author of the multi-million-copy bestseller The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck , Will is the story of how one exceptional man mastered his own emotions, written in a way that can help everyone else do the same.
Few of us will know the pressure of performing on the world’s biggest stages for the highest of stakes, but we can all understand that the fuel that works for one stage of our journey might have to be changed if we want to make it all the way home. The combination of genuine wisdom of universal value and a life story that is preposterously entertaining, even astonishing, puts Will the book, like its author, in a category by itself.
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Download a free chapter of Will, Will Smith’s #1 bestselling memoir
clock This article was published more than 2 years ago
In Will Smith’s memoir, the superstar is self-deprecating but ultimately invincible
In 1996, days after “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” ended and shortly before “Independence Day” almost destroyed the Earth, Will Smith went to the opening of Planet Hollywood in Sydney to seek the advice of Arnold Schwarzenegger. What was the key to his pharaonic success? “Think of yourself as a politician running for Biggest Movie Star in the World,” replied Arnie.
Smith was an excellent student. “I was never promoting a movie,” he writes in his new memoir, “Will.” “I was using their $150,000,000 to promote me .” The result: astronomical success. In a Hollywood — and a music industry — that was even Whiter than it is today, Smith’s bankability was without precedent or rival. “Men in Black” and “Enemy of the State”; Oscar nominations for “Ali” and “The Pursuit of Happyness”; an unequaled golden run, from “Men in Black II” through “Hancock,” of eight consecutive movies grossing more than $100 million. A quarter-century after Planet Hollywood, it’s hard to imagine a shrewder move than publishing a memoir the same month you release your biggest Oscar contender in years ( the tennis drama “King Richard” ).
As most candidates know, a little vulnerability is also a vote-winner. And thus: “What you have come to understand as ‘Will Smith,’” he writes on Page 1, “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.” This is the story Smith wants to tell about his life: that of a fierce drive for success rooted in powerful feelings of inadequacy. Unfortunately, what feels like real anguish — and the seed of a worthwhile read — is repeatedly obscured by braggadocio and pat moralizing.
Apple and Will Smith move their new film ‘Emancipation’ about slavery out of Georgia to protest voting-rights law
Willard Carroll Smith Jr. was, like the song says, in West Philadelphia born and raised. His middle-class childhood was one “of constant tension and anxiety,” lived in fear of a violent alcoholic father. Young Will developed the emotional acuity that would serve him as an actor out of necessity; “a missed glance or misinterpreted word could quickly deteriorate into a belt on my ass or a fist in my mother’s face.” After one of Daddio’s assaults on his mother, when Smith was 13, he considered suicide.
After meeting DJ Jazzy Jeff he decided, against his mother’s wishes, to ditch plans for college (Smith was good at math and science) and try to be a hip-hop star. The duo’s first hit dropped before Will had even graduated and he never looked back. He became the first rapper to win a Grammy. “Fresh Prince” ran for six seasons. His film career is the stuff of legend.
The story behind Will Smith’s iconic ‘hug’ scene in ‘The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’
There were errors, including a tax snafu that left him with huge debts to the IRS, and he’s candid about parenting and marital mistakes (if coy about his and Jada Pinkett Smith’s reported nonmonogamous dalliances). Yet despite the book’s self-deprecating setup, it’s Will the Invincible who shines. Writing about the inspiration that produced “Summertime”: “Skeptics call it self-delusion; I call it ‘another Grammy’ and ‘my first #1 record.’ ” On the period following “Independence Day”: “an absolute, unadulterated, unblemished rout of the entertainment industry.” Prideful statements like these pump out of Smith like an oil spill in a sea of good intentions.
The night Will Smith went to meet Jada Pinkett, he met his first wife instead. Here’s how they finally got together.
Perhaps this is just his way of demonstrating the “overcompensation and fake bravado” that, he says, “were really just another, more insidious, manifestation of the coward.” But such clunky teaching moments are overshadowed by the megalomaniacal ambition and greed on display. After “I Am Legend” broke box office records for a December release, he wondered what could have made it more successful. After Jim Carrey became the first actor to pocket $20 million a movie, “the conversation with me started at . . . twenty-one.” (Even when he plays his kids at Monopoly, it’s to win .)
Smith’s choice of writing partner, Mark Manson — author of the bestseller “ The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck ” — implies a desire to hold up his life as a model of sorts. Most chapters contain some hokey self-help boilerplate to signpost learning — “I’d conflated being successful with being loved and being happy,” etc. But these nuggets feel so precision-engineered to showcase Smith’s hard-earned self-awareness that they appear trite, even insincere, when juxtaposed with his riotous magniloquence. The result is half-baked: real epiphanies bypassed; lessons unlearned. The book ends with a charity heli bungee jump over the Grand Canyon for Smith’s 50th birthday — an act of philanthropic egoism that perfectly embodies the unresolved tension between his savior impulse and an insatiable need to be The Man.
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In 1993’s “Six Degrees of Separation,” Smith plays a con artist who woos a wealthy couple by pretending to be the son of Sidney Poitier. Even after the couple wises up, the attraction, at least for the wife, remains. Finally, something similar occurs in “Will.” You like him despite the evident calculation at play: His foundational insecurity is part of his appeal; even while consciously selling his own vulnerability, he inadvertently reveals its true depths. And so, despite “Will” feeling more like part of a corporate strategy than a work of real introspection (even the acknowledgments redirect you to Smith’s Instagram), you’d probably still vote for him.
Charles Arrowsmith is based in New York and writes about books, films and music.
By Will Smith and Mark Manson
Penguin Press. 432 pp. $30
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Jada Pinkett Smith Is Releasing Her Demons. She Hopes You Will, Too.
In her new memoir, “Worthy,” she answers big questions, poses others to readers and sets the record straight on her marriage to Will Smith.
“What people think of me as putting myself out there,” Jada Pinkett Smith said, “I don’t think of it that way.” Credit... Erik Carter for The New York Times
By Maya Salam
Reporting from Calabasas, Calif.
- Published Oct. 14, 2023 Updated Oct. 18, 2023
For decades, Jada Pinkett Smith has been plagued by misconceptions: about the dynamics of her marriage to Will Smith, about her bond with Tupac Shakur and, most recently, about the Slap at last year’s Oscars. But in her revelation-heavy 400-page memoir, “Worthy,” these discordant threads, and others, will be pinned to the ground in no uncertain terms.
Even devotees of her hugely popular web series “Red Table Talk” — where she and her daughter, Willow, and her mother, Adrienne Banfield Norris, delved into all manner of personal, social and cultural issues — will realize how little they know of Pinkett Smith. The book, out Tuesday from Dey Street, offered her a chance to provide context for a layered, complex journey that can’t be mined in 45 minutes at the Red Table, she told me in September at the headquarters of Westbrook, the entertainment company she founded with Will Smith in 2019.
“How do you captivate people, people who think they already know your story?” said Pinkett Smith, who turned 52 a few days after we sat there sunk into couches, looking out over an atypically drizzly Southern California sky.
In the book’s second to last chapter, titled “The Holy Joke, The Holy Slap, and Holy Lessons,” Pinkett Smith chronicles that infamous Oscars night, one of the most surreal of her life — when Smith stunned the world by marching onstage and slapping Chris Rock after Rock made an unscripted joke about Pinkett Smith’s closely cropped hair. She has alopecia , a hair-loss condition, which Rock has said he was unaware of . (It was not his first joke at her expense from the Oscars stage.) After returning to his seat, Smith yelled up to Rock: “Keep my wife’s name out of your [expletive] mouth!” Minutes later, Smith won the best actor Oscar for his role in “King Richard.”
She, like millions of TV viewers, scrambled to grasp what had happened. But part of her surprise came from a different place than those who’d tuned into Hollywood’s big night — it was at hearing Smith call her his wife. “Even though we hadn’t been calling each other husband and wife in a long time, I said, ‘I’m his wife now. We in this.’ That’s just who I am,” she told me, adding: “That’s the gift I have to offer, like, ‘Hey, I’m riding with you.’”
Smith and Rock had decades of disrespect between them, starting in the late 1980s, before either of them knew her, Pinkett Smith points out. “I didn’t judge Chris, I didn’t judge Will,” she said. “I was like, ‘Oh, this is a spiritual clash.’”
“It didn’t have anything to do with Jada,” Banfield Norris told me during a video interview. “That was really Will’s pain .”
And he was in tremendous pain, and fragile, Pinkett Smith said. He had recently finished filming “Emancipation,” a hellish Civil War-era drama that was psychologically tormenting for Smith, who plays an enslaved man. ( Smith has said that he “got twisted up” in the role, and “lost track of how far I went.”) “I knew in my heart that he needed me by his side more than ever,” Pinkett Smith said.
As for Rock’s Netflix special earlier this year in which he mocks Smith and Pinkett Smith, she said she isn’t bitter, but she was hurt. “I remember my heart piercing, my heart cracking, and I remember my feelings being so hurt,” she told me. “And then I remember being able to smile and wish him well at the same time.” (Among the many tidbits shared by Pinkett Smith in her book was that Rock had asked her on a date when he thought she and Smith had split. She corrected him, and they shared a laugh, she writes. Rock’s representatives didn’t respond to a request for comment.)
Pinkett Smith also unpacks the vitriol she received for rolling her eyes at Rock’s joke — a reaction that some suggested spurred Smith to storm the stage — to illustrate how women are damned if they do, damned if they don’t. “It was easy to spin the story of how the perfect Hollywood megastar had fallen to his demise because of his imperfect wife,” she writes. “Blaming the woman is nothing new.”
“How is it that a woman can be so irrelevant and culpable at the same time?” she asks. “I had to think about the narrative out there of me as the adulterous wife, who had now driven her husband to madness with the command of one look. I had to take responsibility for my part in aiding that false narrative’s existence. I also had to chuckle at the idea that the world would think I wielded that amount of control over Will Smith. If I had that amount of control over Will, chile, my life would have been entirely different these damn near three decades. Real talk! ”
By adulterous, Pinkett Smith is referring to her relationship with August Alsina, which she called an “entanglement” on a 2020 episode of “Red Table Talk” where — after the information surfaced, becoming a public spectacle — she and Smith hashed out the already years-old chapter of their lives. The conversation ended with laughter and a fist-bump to their slogan: “We ride together, we die together, bad marriage for life.”
The truth is the Smiths weren’t together in the traditional sense when she was with Alsina, nor are they now. But they are not in an open marriage, nor are they uncoupled, polyamorous or divorced. They are something else altogether: life partners in family and business, long maintaining an agreement they call “a relationship of transparency.” In recent years, they’ve lived separately . As a 50th birthday present to herself, she bought her own place, moving out of their Calabasas compound.
In a way, her new home, also in Calabasas, closes the loop on a dream that started before they dated, when she was renovating an “old-world tiny” farmhouse on the outskirts of Baltimore that sat on an expanse of land that she envisioned filling with rescue dogs and cats, and a horse for her mother. During that time, she’d gotten a phone call from Will Smith, who’d recently split from his first wife. “You seeing anybody?” he’d asked her. “Uhm, no,” she replied. “Good,” he said. “You seeing me now.”
Ultimately, it’s family that anchors their union. It’s the reason they married in 1997, while she was pregnant with their son, Jaden. “We wanted to create a family we never had, and we did that. And we enjoy our family,” she said. “For us, our marriage is like a cornerstone of that for now. Who knows in 10 years.”
“We’ve tried everything to get away from each other, and we just don’t,” she added, laughing.
Shortly after that 2020 episode, Pinkett Smith, in pursuit of “clarity and emotional sobriety,” became what she calls an “urban nun of sorts.” She meditates and reads texts like the Bhagavad Gita, the Quran or the Bible daily, and abstains from sex, alcohol, violent entertainment and unnecessary spending.
Pinkett Smith is centered and self-assured, yet being hitched to Smith’s bullet train has made it almost impossible for her trajectory not to be affected by his.
“That’s not unique to me,” she stressed. “That’s just a patriarchal construct.” Not to say that it hasn’t irked her, particularly when it’s interfered with her professional identity: Harvey Weinstein, for example, once wouldn’t pursue a project of hers unless Smith attached his name to it, she said. “I’m like, pause, I’ve been doing this before,” she remembered thinking. “That’s when it would bother me. It was like, I’ve been doing stuff before I married this dude.”
On that Friday morning last month, Pinkett Smith seemed to be channeling her younger self, when she was a regular at Baltimore clubs like Fantasy and Signals in the 1980s, earning a reputation as a formidable battle dancer — mixing hip-hop and house, the Running Man and the Cabbage Patch. With pink hair, Girbaud baggy jeans and fresh white Reebok Princess sneakers, she was “considered tomboy-cute,” she writes. “They didn’t see me coming.” When we met, she was still rocking white Reeboks, though well worn; a hot pink Telfar tracksuit; a cropped blonde pixie and an assortment of earrings framing her makeup-free face. Small in size, with an expansive presence.
“Worthy” documents an eventful life, which she recounts chronologically, book-ended by a harrowing story. “This isn’t going to be a fluffy journey,” she wants readers to know. “I’m going to drop you right into one of the darkest moments of my life, and then we’ll backtrack.” In despair after her 40th birthday, in 2011, she began scouting California cliffs that might be suitable to drive off, something higher and steeper than what she’d seen on Mulholland Drive. Somewhere that would appear accidental. She’d tried to adhere to the rules of life but was empty: “Those boxes I’d been checking had not delivered the gifts that had been promised.”
“There’s been so much that has gone on in Jada’s life that she kept close to the chest,” Banfield Norris said. “Most people just had no idea what was going on and the pain that she was suffering. I had no idea.”
A conversation with the father of two of Jaden’s friends presented Pinkett Smith with a potential new way to heal. He told her of his life-changing experience on ayahuasca, and she’d soon set out on a four-night trip. The potent psychedelic presented her with a vision of a panther that would lead her deep into the jungles of her mind. At a critical juncture, she was plunged into a pit of sneering snakes who taunted her. “Mother Aya,” she writes, “is showing me all the unloved parts of myself needing light and love.” After that experience, she’d never again contemplate suicide, she writes. Pinkett Smith continues to integrate ayahuasca into her life. About a year after the 2022 Oscars, she held a friends-and-family session — Smith included. “You’ll have to cut off your spirit’s wrist to break free of our Divine handcuffs,” he told her as it wound down.
The memoir, Smith said in an email, kind of woke him up. She had lived a life more on the edge than he’d realized, and she is more resilient, clever and compassionate than he’d understood. “When you’ve been with someone for more than half of your life,” he wrote, “a sort of emotional blindness sets in, and you can all too easily lose your sensitivity to their hidden nuances and subtle beauties.”
The situation seems ripe for a vulnerability hangover , I suggested to Pinkett Smith.
“I’ve gone through such a gauntlet of some of the harshest criticism with things that aren’t true, and had to sit in that. So I can totally sit in dealing with what is true,” she said.
“What people think of me as putting myself out there, I don’t think of it that way,” she added, after some contemplation. “After you’ve had two  millimeters to your head, and you survive that, your capacity totally just …” she paused to make an explosion sound.
Pinkett Smith writes of a few brushes with death early in her life when, as a teenager in Baltimore, she found success selling drugs, with aspirations to become a “queenpin.” It was a “distorted reality,” she writes.
Pinkett Smith eventually moved away from dealing and her hometown. She attended the North Carolina School of the Arts before moving to Hollywood, where she’d become best known as an actress, starring in the “Cosby Show” spinoff “A Different World” (a role Debbie Allen wrote for her) and in movies like “Set It Off,” “Menace II Society” and “Scream 2,” then later “Collateral,” the “Matrix” sequels and “Girls Trip.”
The memoir introduces people who populated her world along the way: her grandmother Marion, a world traveler and freethinker who significantly shaped young Jada; her absentee father, Robsol Pinkett, a poet and addict who zigzagged through her life; Banfield Norris, a nurse who had Jada as a teenager and would struggle with heroin addiction; and a bevy of friends, especially Tupac Shakur, whom she met at the Baltimore School for the Arts. Their friendship would be the deepest of her life, and his murder in 1996 was one in a string of sudden losses that would contribute to Pinkett Smith’s depression.
She has never talked extensively about her relationship with Shakur before. People have long assumed that it was romantic, but it wasn’t. In “Worthy,” she playfully recollects a time when they’d tried to kiss as teenagers: They’d both recoiled in disgust and dissolved into laughter.
“We were both orphans in a certain manner, and we really tried to compensate for that with one another in our relationship and really take care of each other the best we knew how,” she told me, just weeks before an arrest was made in his death. “We just had a deep loyalty.”
“Pac’s whole thing was because I knew him when — when he wasn’t Tupac,” she added. “The guy who was poor, the conditions that he lived in. And I was rocking with him anyway.”
In “Worthy,” she reveals that he’d proposed to her in a letter while incarcerated at Rikers in the mid-1990s for groping a fan. “Did Pac love me?” she asked. “Yeah he loved me! But I promise you, had we got married, he’d have divorced my ass as soon as he walked through them damn gates and got out.”
He just needed someone to do time with him, she said, and Pinkett Smith’s ride-or-die mentality is carved in her bones. It’s the same instinct that kicked in during the Oscars debacle.
Threads of loyalty, protection and safety wind their way throughout the memoir, and Pinkett Smith implores readers to learn from her hard-fought lessons. Each chapter ends with what I started to call “guidance pages.” Look inward, she urges, and ask yourself questions like: “Can you recognize patterns in your life and relationships that stem from inherited trauma cycles?” Each of these pages opens with a quote meaningful to Pinkett Smith, whether it be from Clarissa Pinkola Estés, author of “Women Who Run With the Wolves,” a defining book for her; the poet Ntozake Shange; the psychoanalyst Carl Jung; or the actor Steve Martin.
“My biggest hope for the book is that it’ll just be oxygen for people who need it,” she said. “I didn’t want to talk about this journey and not give some bread crumbs of how I got out of some of the stuff I was in, because it’s intense stuff.”
As we prepared to say goodbye, the sun broke through, transforming the gray vista below into a California postcard. She was reminded of perhaps the wisest words passed to her, about 15 years ago, from the actress and civil rights activist Ruby Dee : “Laugh now, because you are going to laugh later.”
“When she said it to me, I didn’t know what the hell she was talking about,” Pinkett Smith recalled. “I was like, laugh now? This [expletive] ain’t funny.”
But lately, the meaning of those words hits hard. “Ruby was right,” Pinkett Smith said. “A lot of dark times that I can look at and smile at.”
“At the end of the day, when you’re on your deathbed — or Chris is on his deathbed or Will is on his deathbed or whoever — all this doesn’t matter,” she said, gesturing to something beyond what was in the room. “And so just learning how to exist in that pocket right now. Not waiting until I’m on my deathbed. Let’s just do it right now.”
Maya Salam is a senior staff editor on the Culture desk at The New York Times. She's a pop culture and television buff. Previously, she was a gender reporter and a breaking news reporter at The Times. More about Maya Salam
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