Will Smith book tour arrives in Chicago; actor talks domestic abuse, fatherhood and longing for approval
Smith was joined by co-author Mark Manson at the Chicago Theatre on Wednesday night, part of a five-city tour in support of his just-released memoir.
Chicago welcomed actor Will Smith with cheers and a standing ovation as he took the stage at the Chicago Theatre on Wednesday night.
An evening of rapping and cracking the not-so-occasional joke, Smith presented his memoir “Will” (released Tuesday), which travels the arc of Smith’s life largely chronologically, with each chapter titled a particular emotion prevalent in that season. It starts with the fear that defined much of Smith’s childhood, detailing how his father abused his mother.
“Within everything that I have done since then — the awards and accolades, the spotlights and the attention, the characters and the laughs — there has been a subtle string of apologies to my mother for my inaction that day,” Smith read Wednesday, from the opening chapters of the book. “For failing her in that moment. For failing to stand up to my father. For being a coward.”
The Chicago stop is part of a five-city book tour that started in Philadelphia earlier this week and ends in London on Nov. 18. A different guest joins Smith at each stop for “An Evening of Stories With Friends.”
Sitting in the leather chair across from Smith in Chicago on Wednesday was his memoir co-author Mark Manson, the best-selling writer of “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F***.”
Smith took a relaxed posture Wednesday, responding to audience members who called out to him and joking about using his “big-boy voice” after suffering from a voice crack. At Manson’s prompting, Smith walked through the pivotal life events he describes in the memoir, from his constant yearning for approval to navigating fatherhood as “the undisputed biggest movie star in the world,” as Smith dubbed himself in his book. “I was killing it; I was winning at everything. And winning, to me, meant everything else in my life should be perfect and everyone around me should be happy,” Smith writes. “But it wasn’t, and they weren’t.”
On stage, Smith shared the story of his daughter Willow, who was on tour with Justin Bieber by the time she turned 10. After a show in Ireland, Willow told her father she had fun, but she was done being on tour. But it wasn’t until Willow shaved her head in the middle of the night — eliminating her ability to “Whip My Hair” — that Smith understood what his daughter meant.
“It shook me to my core,” Smith said. “As strange as it sounds, I, like, discovered feelings in that moment.”
Among Smith’s latest ventures is the feature film “King Richard,” a biopic about howVenus and Serena Williams came to rule the world of tennis. Smith plays the sisters’ father and coach; a trailer for the movie kicked off Wednesday’s event. Demi Singleton and Saniyya Sidney, who play the Williams sisters in the movie, were in the audience.. The movie releases later this month.
The Windy City is referenced a handful of times throughout the 432-page book, mostly among brief references to cities Smith filmed in or kept track of for box-office sales. About halfway through the book, Smith does recount how songwriting inspiration struck as he sat waiting for a delayed flight at O’Hare Airport.
Smith was already deep into “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” and entering the movie industry. In the airport, everything inside Smith told him he was done writing music; but listening to a track mixed by DJ Jazzy Jeff was all it took to launch a “pure stream of consciousness” resulting in the song “Summertime.” He didn’t change one word from that writing moment at O’Hare, Smith writes in the book. “I must have looked crazy in that airport lounge. I had that face that musicians get when a track is bangin’.”
Smith knew he had to record the song that day. He left the airport and recorded it in Chicago.
He closed out Wednesday night’s event rapping “Summertime,” the hit he wrote in Chicago — with DJ Jazzy Jeff accompanying him on stage.