Will Smith began his career as a rap artist and has since gone on to enjoy a meteoric rise to superstardom. Smith was born in Philadelphia on September 25, 1968, to middle-class parents. He began rapping at age 12 and with fellow rapper Jeff Townes performed as DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince. The duo won a Grammy for "He's the D.J., I'm the Rapper." Will Smith continued the "Fresh Prince" persona when he starred in television's The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, a sitcom that aired for six years.
Will Smith made his big screen debut in Where the Day Takes You (1992), a teen drama about homelessness. He next appeared in Made in America (1993) as the friend of Whoopi Goldberg and Ted Danson's daughter. His breakthrough role came later that year in an adaptation of John Guare's play Six Degrees of Separation.
Will Smith demonstrated his dramatic talents as a homosexual con man who lies his way into the affections of a wealthy couple played by Stockard Channing and DONALD SUTHERLAND. Smith drew critical applause for his performance, but next turned to the genre that would make him a household name - action.
Will Smith teamed with Martin Lawrence in the surprise hit Bad Boys (1995), a buddy cop film set in Miami that proved his charm as a box-office draw and spawned a sequel, Bad Boys 2 (2003). The shift to action films proved to be a good one. In 1996 Will Smith played a heroic fighter pilot in Independence Day, a massive summer blockbuster that swept audiences worldwide. He followed it with another science-fiction outing, pairing with TOMMY LEE JONES in Men in Black (1997) and placing another box-office hit under his belt. The two leads returned for a sequel, Men in Black 2, in 2002.
After returning to music to release the album Big Willy Style, Smith costarred with GENE HACKMAN in the actionthriller Enemy of the State (1998). The next year he appeared in the critically panned Wild Wild West, starring with Kevin Kline and Kenneth Branagh in an overblown adaptation of the once-popular television series. Smith then took on a quieter role in Robert Redford's The Legend of Bagger Vance (2000), about a mysterious golf guru. Though his part was relatively small, Smith earned praise for his performance.
Perhaps Will Smith's biggest role to date, however, was that of Muhammad Ali in MICHAEL MANN's Ali (2001), in which Smith proved that he could do serious work without resorting to comedy tricks or action special effects. This was perhaps the role Will Smith was born to play, since Muhammad Ali was known for his impish verbal glibness, not unlike that of Will Smith as a young rapper.
Will Smith's performance was a masterpiece of imitation and inflection and garnered an Oscar nomination. Combining glibness with style, sophistication, and charm, Smith has emerged as one of Hollywood's preeminent young stars.
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