CNN PEOPLE IN THE NEWS
Profiles of Lance Armstrong, Will Smith
Aired July 19, 2003 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANNOUNCER: Next on PEOPLE IN THE NEWS, he's an athlete who's pushed the boundaries of human endurance.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He is the most competitive person I have ever met.
ANNOUNCER: He would learn how to overcome a tough childhood from those who loved him most.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I would have a bad day, and he would say, mom, you know, why don't you just quit. And I said, son, we just never quit.
ANNOUNCER: His brash style took the cycling world by storm. But a battle for his life would become the ultimate endurance test.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Lance didn't beat cancer, he kicked it to death.
ANNOUNCER: What's behind his will to win.
LANCE ARMSTRONG: I never thought I was going to get that chance again. And now that I've got it, I'm going to attack it.
ANNOUNCER: Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong.
Then, he's gone from making hit records to breaking box office records.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: "Men in Black" was just a massive hit. A lot of that had to do with Will Smith's appeal.
ANNOUNCER: The Philly native was spinning hits before he got out of high school. But with his early success came adult size problems.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They felt after they got their first windfall, just started spending money like fools.
ANNOUNCER: After getting jiggy with it in Bel Air, he would go on to become one of the silver screen's sizzling stars. Hollywood heavyweight Will Smith flexes his muscle again with another summer sequel.
WILL SMITH, ACTOR: I hate to play it, I hate the game. ANNOUNCER: Their stories and more now, on PEOPLE IN THE NEWS.
PAULA ZAHN, HOST: Hi. Welcome to PEOPLE IN THE NEWS. I'm Paula Zahn.
Lance Armstrong is more than an athlete, more than a champion. He is a survivor. Armstrong's will to win, his will to live have inspired those far beyond the world of sports and cycling. As Armstrong goes for a fifth consecutive championship at the Tour de France, we look at his life and what has driven him to victory. Here's Sharon Collins.
SHARON COLLINS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): What does it take to spend three weeks in agony? Enduring hour after hour of pain, racing more than 2,000 miles with a bull's eye on your back.
SALLY JENKINS, THE WASHINGTON POST: He's got an absolute willpower to do anything he puts his mind to.
COLLINS: What does it take to battle a disease that is conspiring to kill you? Then ride with the hopes and dreams of so many cancer survivors on your shoulders.
DOUG ULMAN, LANCE ARMSTRONG FOUNDATION: It's the way he lives his life. It's you know, don't dwell on the negatives, you got this disease, what are we going to do to get past this.
COLLINS: What does it take to work harder, train harder, race harder, live harder than anyone else.
BILL STAPLETON, ARMSTRONG'S AGENT: Lance is constantly in search of excellence and being better.
COLLINS: What does it take to be Lance Armstrong.
LINDA ARMSTRONG KELLY, LANCE'S MOTHER: Lance was a high-energy young man. Definitely like a little tornado coming into a room.
COLLINS: Lance Armstrong was born in 1971, and raised in the suburbs of Dallas, Texas. His mother, Linda, gave birth to him when she was just 17 years old.
KELLY: I had every excuse in the world to fail. Having a child at 17, and I was determined that this would not be failure for me. And the fact that I had a child, and I was a child, was the greatest thing that I could have ever wished for. And I'm proud that that happened.
COLLINS: Armstrong's parents divorced when he was a toddler. His mother remarried when Lance was 3.
JENKINS: The father issue in Lance's life is more about the absence of one. His real father evaporated before Lance was even a conscious human being. And then his stepfather was Terry Armstrong, and he had a pretty fructuous relationship. Lance is not fond of him. They had some real tension when Lance was growing up.
COLLINS: The bond between mother and son, however, was unbreakable. An independent young woman teaching her child as she herself learned about life.
KELLY: Many a time, we would sit down and talk at the end of the day over dinner. And, you know, I would have a bad day. And he would say, mom, you know, why don't you just quit. And I said, son, you never quit.
ARMSTRONG: She taught me a lot growing up. Of course, normal things that parents teach their kids, but a lot of it just more mentality and attitude.
COLLINS: The Armstrongs lived in Plano, Texas, a mostly upscale area just outside of Dallas. Lance didn't fit in.
JENKINS: He was a kid who didn't have the kind of money that kids around him had. He didn't come from the right kind of parents. He didn't have a country club membership. He didn't play football in Texas, which was the thing to do. He was always on the outs. He's an outsider. And I think that in some ways it was the making of him.
COLLINS: To escape, Armstrong would turn to his bike.
JENKINS: A bike is a great instrument for a runaway boy. And that's a bit of what Lance was. You know, he was trying to run away from some problems maybe, trying to run away from Plano, Texas maybe. He got on that bicycle, he was free.
COLLINS: As a teenager, Armstrong competed in triathlons, running, swimming, biking and beating competitors years older than he was.
ARMSTRONG: That's what gave me the biggest hesitation about entering cycling. I thought, well, you can't make a living doing that. I'm making a living now doing triathlons. I don't want to do that. I can't make a living. I was wrong, I mean, obviously.
COLLINS: Armstrong was invited to train with the junior U.S. national cycling team, and moved into the sport full time. He was a brash young rider who knew only one speed -- all-out, and who seemed to ride with a chip on his shoulder the size of his home state.
KELLY: There's that little tornado that just fills that big urge to go off and show everybody, hey, watch me, I can do this. And, you know, heck, yes, the confidence, he thought he could do it. And there's nothing wrong with that.
ARMSTRONG: I didn't really know a lot about traditional tactics. It's a very traditional sport, and I came in with all this sort of this -- sort of this American attitude, that I don't care about your tradition. COLLINS: In 1992, Armstrong made the U.S. Olympic team, but finished a disappointing 14th. He turned pro and promptly finished 111th, and last in his first professional race.
His next race, however, he came in second.
CHRIS CARMICHAEL, ARMSTRONG'S COACH: Early in his career, he was very, kind of -- had a sort of a cocky attitude, and head-strong about the way he wanted to do things. But, you know, the interesting thing is, most of the time he could back it up with some excellent results.
COLLINS: At age 21, Armstrong became the youngest man ever to win a stage of the Tour de France, and would later capture a Cycling World Championship as well. He was young, rich, and appeared destined for greatness.
JENKINS: Eddie Murks (ph), the world's greatest cyclist ever predicted for years that Lance would be a Tour de France winner, when he lost some weight and settled down and focused. The real question for Mark was whether he was ever going to work hard enough to fulfill his potential.
COLLINS: But when PEOPLE IN THE NEWS continues...
ARMSTRONG: On Wednesday, October 2, I was diagnosed with testicular cancer.
COLLINS: Lance Armstrong comes face to face with death.
COLLINS: Imagine being an elite athlete, capable of pushing a bicycle, pushing your body to nearly super-human levels. Then imagine finding out you're very human indeed.
ARMSTRONG: Naturally, my first question was, to myself, and to the doctors, when am I going to die?
COLLINS: Twenty-five-year-old Lance Armstrong was entering the prime of his career when he was diagnosed with cancer. Surgery removed his cancerous testicle. Armstrong vowed to beat the disease.
ARMSTRONG: I'm entering this battle in probably the best shape of my life. This ain't going to stop me. And I might have a bald head and I might not be as fast as I used to go, but I'm going to be out there.
COLLINS: However, doctors soon discovered Armstrong's battle was bigger than they previously thought.
DR. CRAIG NICHOLS, ARMSTRONG'S ONCOLOGIST: He had presented with a mass in his testes, and at that time when it was discovered, he had had spread to his abdomen, to his lungs, and to two small areas in his brain. Literally, this is something that untreated or undetected would have swept over him in a matter of weeks.
COLLINS: In fact, Armstrong's chances of surviving were at best 50/50.
KELLY: What did I say to Lance, was that I love you, and we're going to beat this. There's nothing worse than someone getting sick, and to have it be your only child. That wasn't going to happen. That just wasn't going to happen.
COLLINS: Armstrong underwent additional surgery to remove the tumors in his brain, and began intense chemotherapy. The hours of pain he'd experienced on a bike paled in comparison to the ravages of the disease.
ARMSTRONG: It doesn't compare to cancer, to the anguish, to the depression, to the confusion, to the torture of 12 weeks of chemotherapy. It's small.
KELLY: He had lost all of his hair. He had big dark circles under his eyes.
STAPLETON: He never lost his fighting spirit, his attitude. But his voice would shake. He lost a lot of weight. He was bald. He had scars on his head. He looked like a cancer patient that was going to die.
COLLINS: But Armstrong didn't give up. In February 1997, after undergoing four rounds of chemotherapy and months of anguish, Armstrong's cancer was declared to be in remission.
JENKINS: He has no idea why he survived. Nor does anyone else, really. What part was science, what part was something bigger than science, what part was self-will and self-determination, he can't tell you what that mysterious calculus was. Not only that, he doesn't want to. He enjoys the mystery of it.
ARMSTRONG: I feel humbler now. More vulnerable.
COLLINS: A few months after finishing chemotherapy, Lance Armstrong could be found relaxing at his waterfront home in Austin, Texas.
ARMSTRONG: He survives cancer and dies from pneumonia.
COLLINS: He was healthy and strong enough to water ski. Uncertain about his future as an athlete.
ARMSTRONG: I don't think I can win the Tour de France. But I thought I could. You know, a year ago, I certainly thought I could win the Tour de France. It's not that year, but in years to come. Not now.
COLLINS: What was certain was that Armstrong had changed.
ARMSTRONG: Twelve months ago, my priority -- my number one priority in life was cycling, and being successful, winning bike races. Of course, now, I could put the bike up forever, and never touch it again, and it wouldn't affect me whatsoever. COLLINS: Armstrong took a year off. Then began an uneasy comeback, one filled with stops and starts, ups and downs, as he wrestled with his body and mind. Eventually his focus became clear.
JENKINS: What cancer did for Lance was give him a reason and an excuse to finally settle down and really become everything he should have been.
CARMICHAEL: He realized he had this second chance. And that he was going to seize it, and he wasn't going to blow it, and that he needed to be thoroughly committed and dedicated to the second chance.
COLLINS: Cancer had reshaped Armstrong. His broad-shoulder triathlete build was gone. So were nearly 20 pounds. Considerable weight when you make a living climbing mountains. Perhaps more importantly, cancer had reshaped Armstrong's mind.
ARMSTRONG: Psychologically, it was a good thing for me. To be so scared and so fearful, to be given another chance.
COLLINS: After months of rigorous training, Armstrong entered the 1999 Tour de France. He was considered to be beyond a long shot. But those who knew what he had been through knew better.
KELLY: I said, you know, you're so sick in that bed, there is nothing that will keep you from going up that mountain, when you think about how sick you were.
COLLINS: Over three weeks, Armstrong rode more than 2,200 miles, over grueling terrain, overpowering competitors like he had overpowered cancer. At the race's end, Lance Armstrong wore a yellow jersey. He had won the Tour de France.
CARMICHAEL: I remember watching him come down the Champs Elysees and crying and just being like, man, this is -- I mean, this is just a miracle.
KELLY: Lance Armstrong puts his mind to something, and it's -- that's all it takes.
COLLINS: For Armstrong, victory meant more than one man beating the competition, or one man overcoming cancer. It was a victory for an entire community of which he was now a lifetime member.
ARMSTRONG: If the people can see one of their own, that was given not such a good chance of survival, see him return and thrive and be better than he was before, I think that's the most powerful message, and perhaps the one that they can get the most hope from.
COLLINS: When PEOPLE IN THE NEWS continues, three more wins. Three kids.
And a battle against drug allegations.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) COLLINS: Lance Armstrong's heart is so powerful and efficient, when he's standing still, it beats just 35 times a minute. Of course, when is Lance Armstrong ever standing still.
JENKINS: He's still a tornado. He leaves this wake of tumult. You know, when he moves through even a room, you know, things seem to fly up in the air and fly around the house. I mean, he's action boy.
COLLINS: Armstrong's victory in the 1999 Tour de France barely two years after beating cancer made him a household name, and captivated the world.
JENKINS: Lance didn't beat cancer, he kicked it to death. He didn't just survive it, he stomped that bastard into the ground, you know. And that's what turns people on.
COLLINS: For an encore, Armstrong won the Tour again in 2000, 2001, and 2002. Four consecutive victories, establishing himself as one of the greatest cyclists of all time, and a man who refuses to be beaten.
KELLY: No one ever remembers second place. And people always remember who's number one. And that is what keeps Lance motivated, the thrill of being number one and winning that race.
STAPLETON: You could say he came from humble beginnings and wanted to find his way out of that. You know, you could say he didn't have a father, and that's what drives him. But I think it's just simpler than that. I think he's just one of those people that is incredibly driven, and was given all the talent to make things happen, like the Tour de France.
COLLINS: Armstrong's training regimen has become the stuff of legend. The man who rides for the U.S. Postal Service Team has been known to ride through rain, snow, sleet and hail in preparation for the tour.
ARMSTRONG: It's miserable weather. And the mountains are tough. And most people would look at that and say, God, that's miserable. But there were days where I never thought I was going to get that chance again. And now that I've got it, then it's very simple. I'm going to attack it.
JENKINS: He's a very monkish character when it comes to his training. He's gaunt to the point of almost looking ill at times. He weighs every morsel of food that he puts in his mouth because it's all a mathematical calculation, it's all about his weight to power ratio, his cadence on the bike.
COLLINS: Suffering is the norm in cycling, but Armstrong's pain threshold is unmatched.
JENKINS: To me, that's what makes Lance tick as an athlete. The suffering is so intense on the bicycle, that it's almost cleansing. It blocks out every other thought. It blocks out every other feeling. And in a way it's incredibly simplifying. It's totally focused, totally pure endeavor. And he loves it.
COLLINS: When Armstrong is not on the bike, his life isn't quite so simple.
During his run of Tour de France victories, Armstrong has battled rumors, fanned by the French press, that he must be using performance enhancing drugs to perform so well. Armstrong has forcefully denied the allegations.
ARMSTRONG: You know, it's -- I've never failed a control. And that is not an excuse. That can't be my defense. But there's been a lot of controls. All clean. Totally negative. The facts are overwhelming. And you know what, people love facts. And they will believe in those, and they will trust those. And that's why I'm absolutely comfortable talking about these things.
COLLINS: A more welcome distraction has been the growth of Armstrong's family. Armstrong met his future wife Kristin a month after finishing chemotherapy, and the couple married in May, 1998. They now have three children, a boy and two twin girls.
ARMSTRONG: I have a little boy that is 3 years old and can completely reason with me. He'll sit down and say, no, dad, this is what I'm thinking. This is my idea. I mean, that is pretty hard to beat when you've got a little boy, or a little child that can actually sit down and communicate with you.
COLLINS: In fact, Armstrong's family life seemed so perfect, it came as a major shock when earlier this year Armstrong and his wife briefly separated. The couple have reunited.
JENKINS: I was surprised they hadn't had more problems, to be frank. You know, as a friend of theirs and as an observer, watching what they were trying to do, the amount of work both of them were taking on, and the amount of travel and the amount of training, and the intensity of their lives, I think that chances are there was going to be a problem or two. And I don't think that there's anything really wrong with that. I think that's probably pretty normal.
COLLINS: Armstrong also devotes considerable time to leading the fight against cancer. He's established the Lance Armstrong Foundation, which focuses on cancer survivorship and sponsors an annual charity ride through Austin, Texas.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Lance Armstrong.
COLLINS: Who serves on the president's cancer panel. And he gladly accepts the burden of being a symbol of hope for cancer patients everywhere.
ARMSTRONG: Something as simple as riding a bike, racing a bike, trying to win bike races, doing something like that and changing somebody's life is -- or affecting their life, it's pretty mind- boggling for me still.
COLLINS: In fact, Armstrong is known for calling or e-mailing cancer patients out of the blue to offer words of encouragement.
ULMAN: Being a young man in the prime of your life, both athletically and physically...
COLLINS: Doug Ulman, who works for the Lance Armstrong Foundation, was a college soccer player fighting cancer when he got an e-mail from Lance six years ago.
ULMAN: Cancer is a life-altering event and a rough road, but I feel as if we were the lucky ones.
I think it's pretty amazing to think that back in '97 before he had ever won the Tour de France, he was dreaming of what the Lance Armstrong Foundation could do, and how he would use his life now to help other people with cancer at a time when he wasn't even sure he would return to cycling.
JENKINS: There's a big misconception about Lance Armstrong's connection with other cancer patients. And the misconception is that he does it for them. He doesn't do it for them. He does it partly for them; he does it for himself. It helps him as much as it helps them. Whenever he's low about something, whenever he's doubtful about something, or unhappy about something, the one thing that always puts that guy back on his feet is talking to somebody with cancer.
COLLINS: Lance Armstrong is many things. A Tour de France winner, husband, father, activist. But there's another title, one which may be the most important of all.
ARMSTRONG: In 10 years time, I won't be doing this anymore. And I won't be known as a cyclist, and I won't be known as somebody who wins bike races. I'll be known as Lance Armstrong. And hopefully for a long time to come I will be known as a cancer survivor.
ZAHN: This year's Tour de France has been a dramatic struggle of close calls and grueling temperatures for Lance Armstrong. And there's plenty of road still ahead. This year's race doesn't end until next Sunday.
ANNOUNCER: When PEOPLE IN THE NEWS returns, Hollywood's nice guy tries to steal another box office blowout as a bad boy. Big bang comedy, with Will Smith. That's next.
ZAHN: Welcome back to PEOPLE IN THE NEWS. With the release of "Bad Boys 2," Will Smith returns to the break-through role that made him a box office star. And what a ride it has been. Since 1995, Smith has conquered Hollywood, married actress Jada Pinkett, and scored an Oscar nomination. But if Smith makes it look all too easy, his journey to superstardom has been anything but. Here's Kyra Phillips. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
SMITH: Somebody shot you?
MARTIN LAWRENCE, ACTOR: That who be you.
SMITH: Me? I shot you?
SMITH: Looks like I hit the meat. It ain't nowhere near the hole.
KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The bad boys of summer are back. Actor Will Smith has reteamed with Martin Lawrence as unlikely detectives in the big-budget action comedy "Bad Boys 2." It's been eight years since the original hit.
LAWRENCE: You know me, I've been, you know, getting over my probation and stuff like that. No.
Oopsy daisy. It's the Negroes.
SMITH: We have such a great respect for one another, that we -- it's the ying and the yang of a perfect comedy.
West, Jim West.
PHILLIPS: After some recent box office bombs, like "Wild Wild West," and with action hero competition growing all the time, Smith could use a summer smash, a blockbuster like 1997's "Men in Black."
LEAH ROZEN, ASSOCIATE EDITOR, "PEOPLE" MAGAZINE: "Men in Black" was just a massive hit. A lot of that had to do with Will Smith's appeal. It put him into the so-called superstar stratosphere.
PHILLIPS; That superstar status was cemented for Smith after other '90s summer sizzlers, "Independence Day" and "Enemy of the State." So much so, the 34-year-old had been dubbed the king of 4th of July.
SMITH: That's my weekend.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A national rule now.
SMITH: Yes, that's the Willie weekend.
PHILLIPS: Will Smith was a crowd pleaser from the start. Raised in a middle class suburb of West Philadelphia, with two sisters and a brother, Smith says there was never a shortage of entertainment.
SMITH: My family was very silly. You know, when I was growing up, we all had a lot of fun. We played around a lot.
PHILLIPS: Smith says there were plenty of jokes, but dad Willard, an Air Force veteran, and mom Caroline, a school administrator kept a very strict household. For most of his childhood, Smith was shipped out of his black middle class neighborhood to a Catholic school several miles away.
PETER CASTRO, ASSISTANT MANAGING EDITOR, "PEOPLE" MAGAZINE: He was doing that Catholic catechism stuff. He excelled at two things in school -- math and making the white kids laugh.
DJ JAZZY JEFF, RECORDING ARTIST: When he was in high school, he used to kind of get into a lot of trouble, a lot of mischief and would charm himself out of it. So they started calling him like Prince Charming.
PHILLIPS: That was his first nickname. The teenager with the charm also excelled musically. In the mid-'80s, when hip-hop music was in its early stages, Smith discovered he could rap.
But Smith's parents made sure their son put education first. The class cut-up eventually transferred to Overbrook High, where he buckled down. His excellent math grades even got him an interview at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1986.
CASTRO: His heart wasn't in it. He just wanted to be a rapper.
DJ JAZZY JEFF: He's kind of looking at college and he's looking at, well, I have the normal path that I'm supposed to take, and then I have the fairy tale path on this side. Because this is what every little kid dreams about, and it never happens. You know, so thank God he decided to take the fairy tale path.
PHILLIPS: Smith's fairy tale started when he crossed paths with Philadelphia deejay Jeff Towns, better known as DJ Jazzy Jeff.
DJ JAZZY JEFF: He grabbed the mike, and just the natural chemistry that we had performing, just kind of getting people. Because both of us were silly. So just getting people involved in a party, and just having a good time.
PHILLIPS: The two bonded, and became a hip stage act. Soon they were performing at clubs together. Smith with a new name.
DJ JAZZY JEFF: Back in the '80s, everything was fresh. So we put the two together.
DJ JAZZY JEFF: Jazzy Jeff and Fresh Prince forever.
PHILLIPS: DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince were a hit. The two released their first record before Smith had even graduated from high school.
SMITH: Listen, home boys, don't mean to burst your bubble, but girls of the world ain't nothing but trouble.
PHILLIPS: The duo's funny, clean-cut lyrics and songs like "Girls Ain't Nothing But Trouble" put them in a category all their own.
CASTRO: He latched on to something that was really clever. And that was, you know, the -- try to do a rap song without any profanity.
SMITH: It's 6:00 now at 8:00. Will you be ready? All right (UNINTELLIGIBLE), see you then, Betty.
PHILLIPS: This rap life worked for the duo. In 1986, they cut "Rock the House," which sold 600,000 copies. Two of their next three albums went platinum. In 1988, mega-hit "Parents Just Don't Understand" won DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince the first-ever Grammy for the best rap performance, much to the chagrin of hard-core rappers everywhere.
TOURE, CONTRIBUTING EDITOR, "ROLLING STONE" MAGAZINE: Jeff and Will Smith having two Grammys is pretty much absurd. That's not typically the image that hip-hop is looking to bring. So much of it is asserting the strength of the black male, or how tough we are. And he's not sort of going down any of those avenues.
DJ JAZZY JEFF: We got a lot of criticism because, you know, it was like, OK, everybody's into gangsta rap and hard-core rap, and I think I just looked at it like, people go out and people listen to records and they go to shows to be entertained; they don't want to go to be screamed at or be angry.
PHILLIPS: Apparently, the record-buying public agreed. When we return, album sales make Will Smith a millionaire by the age of 18. A year later, he loses it all.
TOURE: Will's story is an amazing story, of this kid from nowhere in Philadelphia who becomes a multi-millionaire.
PHILLIPS: In the late '80s, rappers DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince were flying high.
DJ JAZZY JEFF: Things happened for Will and myself very quickly.
SMITH: I'll tell you all the kids across the land, there's no need to argue, parents just don't understand.
PHILLIPS: With their G-rated style of rap, a Grammy and multi- platinum albums, the duo had a winning formula. But fame and fat bank accounts were a disastrous combination for the rap team from Philly.
CASTRO: After they got their first windfall, just started spending money like fools. They would go out and they would have Gucci shopping sprees, and cars, and clothes. And it went really fast.
PHILLIPS: The rock star lifestyle took its toll. In 1988, at the age of 18, Smith was a globe-trotting millionaire with a mansion, and eight cars. By the next year, it was all gone, and the IRS was looking for him.
CASTRO: They came knocking on his door saying, I know you've been spending all this money. What about us? PHILLIPS: At 20, Smith's assets were finally frozen. He and DJ Jazzy Jeff went back to the studio, hoping to recoup some cash by making more gold records. The result was 1990's warm weather anthem "Summertime." The song earned them a Grammy. But the rappers never could recapture the magic or the cash.
Smith says it was time for a career change, and decided to take his gift for gab to a new medium.
DJ JAZZY JEFF: From the time we put out our first record, we sat down one night, and basically had a dream meeting of what we wanted to do. And I'll never forget him saying you know, I really want to make movies.
PHILLIPS: For Smith, following that dream meant saying goodbye to Philadelphia and hello to Hollywood.
SMITH: I was finally there, to sit on my throne as the Prince of Bel Air.
PHILLIPS: By 1990, Smith's rapping talent caught the eye of producers.
DEBBIE ALLEN, DIRECTOR: I remember they talked about this hot new show and this exciting new rapper.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is amazing. You certainly have grown, Will.
SMITH: Well, we all have.
PHILLIPS: They needed a lead for a new TV sitcom, and thought the singer would be a natural.
Smith auditioned and got the role of a lifetime.
SMITH: I get to play a character that's essentially me. You know, and it's the same thing I've been doing for the past, you know, five years with the music.
CASTRO: They came up with this concept of this black kid moving into a really rich suburb. And it was, in a way, a story of his own life. Because this is what he was around. He was tailor-made for this role.
PHILLIPS: Choreographer Debby Allen directed "The Fresh Prince of Bel Air" pilot.
ALLEN: He had this infectious charm and great laugh and eyes that really looked at you when he spoke to you. And I knew he had something.
SMITH: Trying to get everything back together, man.
PHILLIPS: His love life was hot, too. In may, 1992, 23-year-old Smith married Cheri Zampino (ph), a fashion design student he had dated for less than a year. In December, the couple had a boy, Willard Smith III, nicknamed Trey (ph).
SMITH: When the doctor handed me my son, you know, I've tried a number of times to put it into words. You can't -- I don't know, you can't just put it in words.
PHILLIPS: His doting dad would later bring him to movie premiers and interviews.
SMITH: Say hi.
PHILLIPS: With a new family, and a hit TV show, Smith appeared to have it all. But the actor wanted to do more.
SMITH: I think everything was going well with the television show. And to just throw a curveball, it just seemed like the perfect time to throw a curveball.
PHILLIPS: The small-screen star took that gamble and launched a film career.
Smith landed a couple of mediocre roles early on. A homeless kid in "Where the Day Takes You."
SMITH: There's a white man at door.
PHILLIPS: And a big part in "Made in America," opposite Whoopi Goldberg and Ted Danson. Smith was barely noticed in his leap to the big screen, but his next role would separate him from the rest.
SMITH: Said he did it because he wanted to draw the attention of the world to "Catcher in the Rye."
PHILLIPS: Smith's big movie break came with his dramatic performance of a gay con man in "Six Degrees of Separation," a serious departure from his Fresh Prince role.
ROZEN: He's making a giant leap in terms of who he's working with, the kinds of films he's doing. And he was doing a serious role, he wasn't just doing a comedy part.
PHILLIPS: But the former rapper would only go so far in the role of a gay hustler. The script called for an on-the-mouth kiss between Smith's character and another man. Smith refused to shoot the man.
SMITH: In all of the other aspects of my career, everything was perfect. Am I going to mess it up?
PHILLIPS: The scene was reshot to accommodate Smith. The actor later said he regretted asking for the change.
SMITH: I think that I'm more mature now. I wish I had another shot at it.
PHILLIPS: But Smith's shot at a dramatic part still worked. His "Six Degrees" role captivated critics and audiences and set the former rapper firmly on the road to stardom. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
SMITH: Start what?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Your life.
SMITH: Will you help me?
PHILLIPS: With the success of his role in "Six Degrees of Separation," Will Smith proved he could handle the drama. But he was ready for more action.
SMITH: I get bored easily. So I need to have something that's -- that is going to make me work, something that I have to learn a character or something, I have to, you know, get in shape for, or something like that.
I'm buff, man!
PHILLIPS: Smith made that change in his box office break-through "Bad Boys," the 1995 comedy from action adventure specialist Jerry Bruckheimer.
SMITH: Don't be alarmed. We're Negroes.
LAWRENCE: No, man, no, that's too much bass in your voice. That scares white folks. You've got to sound like them. We were wondering if we could borrow some brown sugar?
ROZEN: What it had that you hadn't seen before was it had two black men as your leads. You had Will Smith and you had Martin Lawrence. And the film turned into a huge hit.
PHILLIPS: The buddy cop movie rocked box offices, raking in $140 million. But Smith says his triumph as an action hero on screen did not make him one at home. An intense work schedule and little family time led to the break-up of his marriage in 1995.
Smith says his painful divorce taught him a valuable lesson: Be a better family man. In 1996, he got another shot at that role.
SMITH: This is my sweetie. This is Jada Pinkett.
PHILLIPS: Smith began dating actress Jada Pinkett. The two met years before when Pinkett auditioned for the role of Smith's girlfriend on "The Fresh Prince of Bel Air."
ALLEN: And they met, and the next thing I knew, they were like locked.
PHILLIPS: Pinkett didn't get the sitcom, but six years later she did land the Fresh Prince himself. The couple married in 1997, started a family a year later with son Jaden (ph) and daughter Willow.
CASTRO: I think fatherhood has just completely redefined his life. PHILLIPS: Smith's devotion to his children was apparent at the 2001 Academy Awards.
CASTRO: He got a call on his cell phone that one of his kids had a high fever, and he just rushed right out of there. I cannot tell you how many celebrities in that situation would have just called the nanny.
PHILLIPS: As Smith's family life flourished, so did his career.
ROZEN: "Bad Boys" made Will Smith into a bona fide movie star. But then "Independence Day" confirmed it.
PHILLIPS: The science fiction comedy was the top-grossing movie of 1996, and sent Smith up to the Hollywood big league. The hits kept coming.
A year later, he teamed up with Tommy Lee Jones in "Men in Black." Again, Smith tangled with aliens and became a box office phenomenon.
The movie was the biggest moneymaker of 1997.
Smith used the success of "Men in Black" to get back behind the mic. The theme video sent the song to number one on the charts.
But back on the big screen, Smith's run of blockbusters ended in 1999. The overproduced Western remake "Wild Wild West" bombed at the theaters. It opened on July 4. It was expected to be another "Men in Black"-size triumph.
SMITH: When you tell this story to your grandkids, you make sure you leave this part out.
ROZEN: Smith couldn't save it. You could see him working really hard to try and make these pathetic jokes work.
PHILLIPS: Despite his hard work, and uncanny resemblance, smith couldn't save the much-anticipated "Ali." He got in the best shape of his life for the heavyweight role, but the film was no box office champ.
But Smith's performance impressed critics, and earned him a best actor Oscar nomination.
SMITH: You lost your swing. We've got to go find it.
PHILLIPS: And Smith's part as a mysterious caddie in "The Legend of Bagger Vance" didn't pack nearly the same punch as his early adventure roles.
ROZEN: I think you always know with Will Smith, he is one good comedy away from being back on top. And at the time that "Bagger Vance" came out, you knew that they were just polishing that script on the "Men in Black" sequel. PHILLIPS: Though most critics panned "Men in Black II," audiences went to see the sequel and made it one of the most successful movies of the summer.
Now Smith hopes his new sequel, "Bad Boys 2," will make him king of the summer box office again.
SMITH: This movie is so good, that it will almost guarantee a "Bad Boys III." There's, you know -- when you make movies, sometimes you hit it, and sometimes you don't. And with this one, this is out of here.
PHILLIPS: Clearly Smith enjoys making movies. But this Hollywood hero sometimes has other serious things in mind.
SMITH: I'm going to run for president. Probably in about 10 years. I'm going to be the first black president of the United States.
CASTRO: I would not be surprised if he ran for office one day.
DJ JAZZY JEFF: If he tells you that he wants to be an astronaut, you can laugh, but you can never count him out.
PHILLIPS: The rapper turned TV actor turned movie star still strives for perfection as he continues to reinvent himself.
SMITH: Even at number one, I still feel an urge to work and try to make it better.
ZAHN: Will Smith is already working on his next movie. He's currently filming "I Robot," a futuristic action adventure film due out next year. He's also considering several other projects, including a remake of "A Star is Born."
That's it for this edition of PEOPLE IN THE NEWS. Coming up next week, the murder in Modesto that has mesmerized the nation. A look at the life and tragic death of Laci Peterson. I'm Paula Zahn. Thanks so much for joining us.
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