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Will Smith reveals everything in his autobiography, Will. Smith is open about his tumultuous family life, his rocky relationships and career highs and lows. He even describes the time he went to jail for a weekend. And it wasn’t even for something he did. 

Will Smith headshot for National Geographic
Will Smith | Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic

The reason Will Smith served time for his security guard 

Smith described the scene in a Pennsylvania jail.

“I had never been in a jail cell before,” Smith wrote. “It was way too small, and there were way too many of us in there. Frankly, I felt like we all deserved better.”

The arrest happened after an appearance on Philadelphia’s WDAS-FM with Mimi Brown, where Smith was promoting DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince’s third album, And In This Corner... Charlie Mack, Smith’s security guard, protected Smith from an attacker. But when the interloper pressed charges, they went after Smith, not Mack.

Apparently, there is an arcane law in Pennsylvania – the ‘master slave clause’ – that states that if one person commits a crime under the control or direct influence of a master, then the ‘master’ is legally liable for the actions of the submissive/slave party. The man’s legal team argued that because of my ‘dominant’ relationship with Charlie, I was culpable for his actions. Charlie was never even arrested, even though it was he who had broken the man’s left eye socket and irreparably damaged his cornea. Clearly, the man’s legal team thought that I was a ‘deep pocket’ and logically reasoned that I was a bigger financial target than Charlie.

The joke was on them. I didn’t have a dime to my name. 

Will Smith, Will

Will Smith’s security guard prevented a much worse attack 

The reason Mack got defensive at all was because a former producer of DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince, Dana Goodman, sent someone to ambush the radio appearance. Goodman paid for some of DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince’s first recordings, but Smith got out of their contract when Russell Simmons wanted to produce them. Goodman sent someone to interrupt the interview demanding Smith thank Goodman. Mack tried to shoosh the interloper.


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“The dude put his palm on Charlie’s chest to shove him away,” Smith wrote. “Before his lips could form the first o of Goodman, Charlie cracked him with a straight right hand dead on the button, and dude’s head explodes like a watermelon. It Was as if Charlie had shot his first out of a cannon. The guy crashed into the metal rack holding the eight-track cassettes, scattering them all over the room. Dude was down and out. Charlie grabs me, and Mimi and runs us toward the back parking lot.”

The reason he was in jail all weekend

Everything eventually got sorted and Smith doesn’t have a criminal record. Unfortunately, it was a Friday, so Smith had to spend the whole weekend in jail before he could clear things up.

“Hopefully none of you will ever need this information, but if you can at all avoid it, do not get arrested on a Friday,” Smith wrote. “I was released on Monday morning (no one gets let out on a weekend).”

The jail stint came at a rocky time for Smith. He’d just broken up with his highschool sweetheart. And In This Corner… was not a hit. He was out of money and sitting in jail, a long way from figuring things out.

“But as I sat in that jail cell, facing aggravated assault, criminal conspiracy, simple assault, and reckless endangerment charges for a punch I hadn’t even thrown, I finally understood a term I’d heard many times before: Rock. Bottom,” Smith wrote. “I was literally lying on a cold stone floor. Everything I had, everything I built, the woman I loved, was gone. I was broken. And as I lay there in the fetal position, trying to figure out How the f*** did I get here?, I made the horrific error of clinging to the universal, rock-bottom axiom of hope: Well, I guess it can’t get any worse than this.”