Jada and Willow may be known for oversharing at the red table, but Will Smith’s upcoming memoir Will may do some table-shaking of its own. The book is full of revelations—including the admission that method acting led Smith, then married to first wife Sheree Zampino to fall in (unrequited) love with co-star Stockard Channing during his first film, 1993's Six Degrees of Separation (h/t CNN). But an excerpt provided to People magazine revisits a childhood trauma Smith considers a defining moment in both his life and public persona.
In the excerpt, the 53-year-old reflects on witnessing his father, William Carroll Smith Sr., physically abuse his mother, Caroline Bright, while the two were married and raising a young family in Philadelphia.
“When I was nine years old, I watched my father punch my mother in the side of the head so hard that she collapsed. I saw her spit blood. That moment in that bedroom, probably more than any other moment in my life, has defined who I am,” Smith writes.
“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,” he continues. “For failing her in the moment. For failing to stand up to my father. For being a coward.”
The incident also inspired the seemingly fearless, always “on,” mega-star persona most identify with Smith over four decades later. “What you have come to understand as ‘Will Smith,’ 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.”
But as with most parent-child relationships, Smith also admits his relationship with his father was...complicated, as the elder Smith was also an incredibly supportive parent.
“My father was violent, but he was also at every game, play, and recital. He was an alcoholic, but he was sober at every premiere of every one of my movies,” he writes. “He listened to every record. He visited every studio. The same intense perfectionism that terrorized his family put food on the table every night of my life.”
Equally complicated were the final months of Will Sr.’s battle with cancer, during which his son both cared for him and momentarily contemplated avenging the abuse of his mother.
“One night, as I delicately wheeled him from his bedroom toward the bathroom, a darkness arose within me,” Smith recounts. “The path between the two rooms goes past the top of the stairs. 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.”
“I paused at the top of the stairs. I could shove him down, and easily get away with it,” he continues. “As the decades of pain, anger, and resentment coursed then receded, I shook my head and proceeded to wheel Daddio to the bathroom.”
William Smith Sr. died of cancer in 2016. Will hits bookshelves on Nov. 9.