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Will Smith becomes Oscar winner on night embroiled in controversy

Will Smith, left, and Jada Pinkett Smith arrive at the Oscars on Sunday, March 27, 2022, at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles (Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)
Will Smith, left, and Jada Pinkett Smith arrive at the Oscars on Sunday, March 27, 2022, at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles (Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)

Will Smith’s first Oscar win has been shrouded in controversy after the actor tearfully apologised on stage following an incident with comedian Chris Rock in which he appeared to hit him during the live awards ceremony.

Philadelphia-born Smith, 53, appeared to take offence to a gag Rock made on stage about Jada Pinkett Smith’s short haircut, resulting in him marching on stage to confront the comedian.

He appeared to hit Rock before returning to his seat and shouting from the audience to Rock on stage.

Smith started out as an aspiring rapper and became a sensation in American sitcom The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and has now won his first Oscar for his leading role in King Richard, in which he plays the father and coach of tennis stars Venus and Serena Williams.

He began his career as one half of hip hop duo DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince before finding fame for his portrayal of a fictionalised version of himself in the sitcom.

The show ran for six seasons and followed fictional Will after he was sent away from his rough Philadelphia neighbourhood to live with his wealthy Uncle Phil and Aunt Vivian in Bel-Air, where he often had fun at the expense of his privileged cousins Carlton and Hilary.

The show was a hit and brought Smith acclaim and awards nominations.

King Richard special screening – London
Saniyya Sidney, Will Smith and Demi Singleton arrives for a special screening of King Richard at the Curzon Mayfair cinema in London (Ian West/PA)

After the success of The Fresh Prince, which ran for 148 episodes between 1990 and 1996, Smith went on to star in a sprawling selection of films, including the Bad Boys and Men In Black trilogies.

He also starred in films such as Independence Day, Enemy of the State, I, Robot and I Am Legend and portrayed boxer Muhammad Ali in the 2001 biopic Ali, which garnered him his first Oscar nomination for best actor.

In 2006 he scored a second Academy Award nomination for his role as Chris Gardner in The Pursuit of Happyness.

The biographical film follows Gardner, a homeless salesman and his son, played by Smith’s son Jaden, as they endure a year-long struggle of homelessness.

The film is based on the 2006 memoir of the same name written by the real Gardner and Quincy Troupe.

The Graham Norton Show – London
Will Smith, Alfonso Ribeiro and DJ Jazzy Jeff on the decks behind during filming of the Graham Norton show at the London Studios, in London (Graham Norton Show/PA)

Most recently Smith starred as Richard Williams in King Richard, for which he has won a Bafta, Screen Actors Guild Award, Golden Globe and Critics Choice Movie Award, all for best actor.

He now has the Oscar for best actor to add to those accolades.

The film follows the father of tennis players Venus and Serena Williams, played by Saniyya Sidney and Demi Singleton respectively, as he works to defy the odds and train his daughters to become two of the greatest female tennis players in the world.

The film grossed more than 15 million US dollars (£11.4 million) at the box office in the United States and Canada, and more than 38 million US dollars (£28.8 million) worldwide as of March 2022.

King Richard clinched six nominations at the 94th Academy Awards, including best picture and best original screenplay.

Smith, who is married to actress Pinkett Smith, with whom he shares children Willow and Jaden, also recently released a memoir, Will.

The book recalls Smith’s experiences of childhood trauma, his relationship with his father and his use of ayahuasca, a psychoactive brew used both recreationally and for more traditional medicinal purposes.

In February 2022 National Geographic announced that Smith would star in Pole To Pole, a new series that will follow him and his film crew as they go on a 26,000-mile trek from the South Pole to the North Pole.

The series will be released on Disney+.

The release date is currently unconfirmed.