Here’s the version of Will Smith that I know….
It took me almost a week to find words to share with you regarding last Sunday night, so here we go.
When Glenn Frey and Eddie Money died, I welled up. When David Letterman retired, I welled up. Yet, while I think Leno is just as funny (in a different way than Dave) I didn’t well up when Jay retired. When Hugh Grant was arrested with the hooker, we were a little shocked, and then uncomfortably laughed it off when we saw him appear on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno three days later.
We all have an unexplainable fondness for these people we will probably ever meet. Their unique talent comes through our TV, movie screen, phone screen, ear buds and radio speakers, touching our very hearts and maybe reaching our soul. We may never meet them, yet, we feel like we know them, almost one on one. They somehow in our minds, become our friends. It’s an unexplainable connection.
To millions of people around the world, Will Smith was that friend.
Like millions of Americans, I was in disbelief at what I saw on my phone last Sunday night. I was not watching The Oscars. But like most, I checked in on my phone to see who was winning and losing. When I saw the now infamous Will Smith slap to Chris Rock, my heart sank. Time froze. I KNEW it was real. I don’t know why, or how I knew. It was like I felt it, through the phone. The reaction on the face of Chris Rock telegraphed NOT STAGED. Then, if possible, to make it worse, Will did, with his proud march back to his seat, he followed up his vulgarity on national television.
We’ve seen celebrities screw up time and time again. But this one is different, to me.
I never met Will face to face, but I did speak to him, at length through a broadcast line, during a LIVE Grammy Awards radio event. Our station was LIVE from the Grammy Awards many years ago in New York City. Let me set the stage:
Will Smith stopped by our broadcast booth during the day of, for a pre-arranged visit through the record label. We were LIVE from a New York City recording studio. As you can imagine, when Will arrived LIVE on the air, the room LIT UP. His bigger than life, boyish charm is even more powerful in person. This timeline was right before his Men in Black, rocket-like rise to movie stardom. Yet, bigger than his charismatic magnet, if possible, was Will’s humility and kindness. He was grounded enough and giving enough to bring everyone at our broadcast, PIZZA. He walked in with SIX giant boxes. HE paid. WE were getting the gift of having Will Smith on our station, yet HE felt we were honoring HIM, buying our lunch. To add to that, he gave us FORTY FIVE minutes of Will Smith brilliance on the air, more than we deserved and more time than he had for a Hartford Connecticut radio station. My staff, nor I will never forget it.
Maybe that day, he was just doin his job, and maybe he brought pizza to everyone he was visiting. I’ve met ALOT of very famous people. The kindness and humility from Will Smith felt very real. That’s why Sunday night still stings for me. Sunday night was NOT the Will Smith we spoke to.
We all make mistakes, sometimes BIG ones that don’t go away easily, or in some cases, ever.
With that said, I do believe people can change. I believe we can learn from our mistakes, with lessons that can transform us, into the people we want to be over time. I can tell you from experience, that I am not the same person I was thirty years ago. I have made mistakes that I live with every day. But, they remind me that I have grown, and still growing. To me, that is what our journey is about.
I hope and pray that Will learns from this mistake, and again, be the friend we knew.