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Behind Will Smith’s comedic genius there is trauma and in his memoir, Will, he shares that his childhood wasn’t filled with laughs.

Growing up, Smith witnessed domestic violence between his parents, something he said would haunt him and define the man he became. In an excerpt of the book published by People, he opened up about a time when he saw his father, Will Smith Sr., abuse his mother, Caroline Bright.

“When I was nine years old, I watched my father punch my mother in the side of the head so hard that she collapsed,” he wrote. “I saw her spit blood. That moment in that bedroom, probably more than any other moment in my life, has defined who I am.”

In that moment, even though he was a child, he wished he could’ve protected her. In the book, he wrote that he had been guilty for being powerless in that moment and his career has been a kind of compensation to his mother for not protecting her from his father’s blows.

“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. For failing her in the moment. For failing to stand up to my father. For being a coward.”

Bright and Smith Sr. divorced in 2000.

The 53-year-old said that his father was “violent” and an “alcoholic” but despite his ways, “he was also at every game, play, and recital,” “listened to every record” and “visited every studio.” Smith also acknowledged that his father was sober at every movie premiere as well. His unconditional support still didn’t calm the anger and resentment he had towards Will Sr. for abusing his mother, though. While caring for his father during his battle with cancer, the Bad Boys III star had thoughts of killing his father in a way to avenge his mother.

One night, as I delicately wheeled him from his bedroom toward the bathroom, a darkness arose within me. 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. As the decades of pain, anger, and resentment coursed then receded, I shook my head and proceeded to wheel Daddio to the bathroom.
Will Smith Sr. died in 2016.
Smith’s memoir, Will, comes out Nov. 9.
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