At Last: Will Smith wins first Oscar for tenacious father in ‘King Richard’

94th Academy Awards - Oscars Show - HollywoodWill Smith

Will Smith won his first Academy Award on Sunday, moments after a stunning incident in which he smacked presenter Chris Rock on stage for making a joke about his wife and twice shouted a vulgarity.

Smith captured the best actor honor for his portrayal of Richard Williams, the determined father who raised tennis champions Venus and Serena Williams, in “King Richard.”

Smith, 53, one of Hollywood’s most bankable stars, had been nominated twice before, for 2001’s “Ali” and 2006 movie “The Pursuit of Happiness.”

“I want to apologize to the Academy. I want to apologize to all my fellow nominees,” Smith said in a tear-filled acceptance speech, without apologizing to Rock.

In “King Richard” he depicted Richard Williams and his unconventional strategy for elevating his daughters from a municipal park in a hardscrabble Los Angeles neighborhood to Centre Court at Wimbledon.94th Academy Awards - Oscars Show - Hollywood

“Richard Williams was a fierce defender of his family,” Smith said, in reference to him defending his wife after Rock made a joke about her short hair. Jada Pinkett Smith told Billboard in December she has been battling the autoimmune disorder alopecia, which can cause hair loss and balding.

Smith walked on stage toward Rock, who had his hands behind his back when Smith threw an open hand at his face that produced an audible smack. Smith then shouted, “Keep my wife’s name out of your fucking mouth,” which he later repeated.

Smith shot to fame in the 1990s in the television sitcom “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” and took on mostly comedy and action roles early in his movie career before expanding into drama.94th Academy Awards - Oscars Arrivals - Hollywood

He earned his first Oscar nomination for playing professional boxer Muhammad Ali and his second for portraying another real person, Chris Gardner, a onetime homeless father who went on to found his own brokerage firm.94th Academy Awards - Oscars Show - Hollywood

Isha Price, one of Venus and Serena’s three older half-sisters, was an early collaborator on the “King Richard” script, providing details and recollections that made the movie the story of the family.

Venus and Serena Williams joined the project as executive producers only after they watched the completed film. Richard Williams has been in ill health for years and did not take part.

“It is terrifying when you play a real person that is still alive, and you know that they’re going to see it,” Smith told late night TV host Jimmy Fallon in November.


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