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banner Tuesday, 12 February, 2002, 16:13 GMT
Fresh Prince joins Hollywood royalty
Will Smith as Ali
Ali has cemented Will Smith's position in Hollywood's "$20m club"
Will Smith appears to have had a charmed career - but even his most ardent admirers would barely have expected he would one day be up for an Academy Award.

Born in 1968, he was the second of four children of the owner of a refrigeration company, and grew up in middle-class West Philadelphia.

His nickname as a youth - Prince - is supposed to have derived from his cheek and charm.

His real interest at the time was music, rather than acting, and as a teenager he teamed up with DJ Jeff Townes and began performing as DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince.
Will Smith
Smith won an MTV best video award in 1999

His music career was successful enough, the duo even hitting the number one spot in the UK with Boom! Shake The Room in 1993.

But by this time Will Smith had met TV producer Benny Medina, who cast him in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air - a hit comedy series for NBC which lasted six years.

His first film role of note was during the Fresh Prince years - a key part in Fred Schepisi's surrealistic drama Six Degrees Of Separation, which hinted at a much deeper and more adult talent than the TV series suggested.


Smith followed this with one of the first big-budget action thrillers to feature two black leads, Bad Boys, where he played opposite fellow comedian Martin Lawrence.

The actor was now big box office, a position he cemented with the epic action drama Independence Day, in which he played Marine Corps Captain Steve Hiller.

Another world-wide hit followed in 1997 when he battled aliens again in Men In Black - this time for laughs, opposite Tommy Lee Jones.

During this time Will Smith was still a multi-million selling pop star, riding out the film flop Wild Wild West by making a hit of the theme song.

He had already been approached about playing heavyweight boxer Muhammad Ali but turned it down - on several occasions, reportedly.

But, with the backing of Ali himself, he eventually took the role in what proved to be a long and troubled production.

The film cost $110m (76m) and was completed only after Smith and director Michael Mann agreed to take pay cuts, and take personal responsibility for any costs that ran over the budget.

Smith still walked away with $20m and a percentage of gross profits - and, now, his first Oscar nomination.

Links to more Oscars 2002 stories are at the foot of the page.

Links to more Oscars 2002 stories