Will Smith Shared What His Father’s Cancer Diagnosis Taught Him About Love: It ‘Started the New Phase of My Life’

Will Smith experienced a life-changing moment that came on the heels of a massive movie failure. The disappointment over his box office flop was quickly put into perspective when he learned that his father was very ill.

Will Smith arrives for Paramount Pictures' Premiere Of 'Gemini Man'
Will Smith | Albert L. Ortega/Getty Images

Will Smith’s movie ‘After Earth’ underperformed

Smith’s 2013 sci-fi/action movie After Earth was widely panned by critics and bombed at the box office. In a 2015 interview with Esquire, the actor explained why that failure hit him so hard, calling it “the most painful failure in my career.”

According to Smith, he was more upset over After Earth’s failure than the movie Wild Wild West because he co-starred with his son Jaden Smith.

Wild Wild West was less painful than After Earth because my son was involved in After Earth and I led him into it. That was excruciating,” he said. “What I learned from that failure is how you win. I got reinvigorated after the failure of After Earth. I stopped working for a year and a half. I had to dive into why it was so important for me to have number-one movies.”

He explained, “And I never would have looked at myself in that way. I was a guy who, when I was fifteen my girlfriend cheated on me, and I decided that if I was number one, no woman would ever cheat on me. All I have to do is make sure that no one’s ever better than me and I’ll have the love that my heart yearns for.”

Smith admitted that he never shook that outlook “and moved into a mature way of looking at the world and my artistry and love.” When he experienced the movie failure, he shifted that perspective.

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Smith’s worry about his movie failure was eclipsed by his dad’s cancer diagnosis

Smith’s career failure was put into perspective when he learned that his father had been diagnosed with cancer. The devastating news about his dad caused a big shift in his thinking.

The actor shared how the box office numbers left him pretty down — but that was quickly followed by truly devastating news about his dad.

After Earth comes out, I get the box-office numbers on Monday and I was devastated for about twenty-four minutes, and then my phone rang and I found out my father had cancer,” Smith explained. “That put it in perspective — viciously.”

Will Smith attends the premiere of Disney's 'Aladdin'
Will Smith | Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic

Will Smith shifted his focus from always wanting to win

Following the news about his father, Smith said he cleared his head by getting on the treadmill “for about ninety minutes” and came away with a new philosophy.

“And that Monday started the new phase of my life, a new concept: Only love is going to fill that hole,” the actor shared. “You can’t win enough, you can’t have enough money, you can’t succeed enough. There is not enough. The only thing that will ever satiate that existential thirst is love.”

“And I just remember that day I made the shift from wanting to be a winner to wanting to have the most powerful, deep, and beautiful relationships I could possibly have,” he added.