Jada Pinkett Smith’s tragic real-life story
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Judging from the sprawling estate that Jada Pinkett Smith enjoys with her husband Will Smith and their two kids (you might have seen it in the opening of her Facebook Watch show, Red Table Talk), it’s hard not to wonder: Exactly how many bargains with God does one need to make to get 150 acres in Malibu? Nobody knows.
But we do know that nothing comes without a price. And Pinkett Smith has been through more adversity than you think, having fought for every blessing she’s been given. Starting from her childhood years in Baltimore to today, Miss Jada has certainly paid her dues — including living with a drug-addicted parent, losing cherished friends, and experiencing a bout with depression that almost ended her life. Through it all, she has remained standing. And to be honest, we’d expect no less from her.
Here’s a look at the tragic real-life story (and consequently, stunning rise) of Jada Pinkett Smith.
She grew up with a heroin-addicted mom
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Jada Pinkett Smith told POPSUGAR that her mom, Adrienne Banfield Norris (above right), gave birth to her at a “very young age.” The mother-daughter duo also revealed in an early episode of Red Table Talk that Norris had been a heroin addict for most of Pinkett Smith’s childhood. “I think I didn’t find out my mother was addicted to heroin until I was in my teens,” said Pinkett Smith. “I could tell when my mother was high. She couldn’t make it on time to pick me up from school. Or, she’s nodding off, falling asleep in the middle of something. You just realize, oh that’s not being tired. That is like, a drug problem.”
Banfield Norris has been sober since the ’90s — but says the scars on her daughter remain. “The emotional damage, and the spiritual damage that I did to myself, and to her — that was devastating,” Banfield Norris said.
Thankfully, Pinkett Smith and her mom have a close relationship today. Banfield Norris even traveled with her daughter more than once to help take care of her kids — something that Pinkett Smith expressed gratitude for on Red Table Talk, telling her mom: “It helped me so much, because if I didn’t have you, I wouldn’t have been able to do The Matrix. I wouldn’t have been able to keep working. You went with me everywhere. And because of you, I was able to have my children with me. So, thank you.”
She was a drug dealer in high school
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When asked about her relationship with rapper Tupac Shakur on Sirius XM’s Sway’s Universe, Jada Pinkett Smith casually dropped a bomb. “When I first met Pac, when we first met, I was a drug dealer,” she said. She didn’t elaborate much on the topic during that interview, because she said she was planning to “write a book about it.”
However, the next day, Access Hollywood was able to pull a few more details out of the Bad Moms star. Citing her desire to clear up misconceptions about this period of her life, Pinkett Smith revealed that her mother “saved” her. “My mother got me out of Baltimore — I had gotten a scholarship … to go to North Carolina School for the Arts, and something really horrible had happened to me that she found out about. And, you know, one day she just packed the car and was just like, ‘You’re getting outta here.'”
This was the turning point in Pinkett Smith’s life, and one that also served as a fundamental change in her relationship with Tupac. “I had started out one way, and Pac, you know, started out one way, and we kinda switched roles,” she told Access Hollywood, adding, “It was the thing that bound us, but it was also the thing that broke us apart.”
She was devastated by Tupac’s death
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Jada Pinkett Smith and Tupac Shakur quickly became friends after they met on her first day at Baltimore High School for the Arts. Pinkett Smith once said that she didn’t feel he was the type of guy she’d normally hang out with, but he eventually drew her to him “like a magnet.” They maintained a platonic friendship, even after Pinkett Smith moved to Los Angeles and Shakur went to prison. But once Shakur was released, his outlook on life seemed to change, causing a rift between them.
As Pinkett Smith told Howard Stern: “We had a very hardcore disagreement … I just wasn’t in agreement with the direction that he was taking. He felt as though I had changed … Looking back now, I totally understand where Pac was, because at that particular point in time, that mentality was part of his survival … [but] it was a mentality that he started to come out of before he was murdered.” This wasn’t their first big blowout where they “stopped speaking,” but after Shakur was fatally shot and killed in 1996, Pinkett Smith regretted “not having the opportunity to tell him that [she] loved him.”
To this day, she is still emotional about losing her friend, telling Sway’s Universe that their friendship filled a deep need for her at that time in her life. “When you have somebody that has your back when you feel like you’re nothing — that’s everything,” she said.
She once pulled a knife on her ex-boyfriend
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Jada Pinkett Smith says that while she’s never been in a physically abusive relationship, she did feel threatened by one of her exes. On a November 2018 episode of Red Table Talk, she told the story of how an ex-boyfriend, who she described as “a sweet guy” but with “tendencies of violence,” deeply frightened her one night with his aggressive demeanor.
He didn’t hit her, but Pinkett Smith wasn’t about to let it escalate. Instead, she grabbed the biggest knife she could find to keep him away from her.
“I remember … grabbing a big old knife from the kitchen, and hiding in his son’s room. And I’ll never forget, he came through the back sliding door, like on a creepy creep creep, like he was going to like sneak up on me or something like that … I came out of his son’s bedroom … and I was like, ‘Don’t come near me.’ And he said the quintessential line you hear in movies all the time: ‘You think I would hurt you? I would never do that to you.’ And I mean, I was like, ‘Oh my god, I’m in trouble.’ I was in trouble.”
The star said she credits Spike Lee for helping her get out of that relationship, since he had been calling her about a role in the movie Girl 6. “I used Spike as an excuse to get on that plane,” she said.
She’s an ex addict
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Alcohol and other forms of addiction run in Jada Pinkett Smith’s family, as she revealed on Red Table Talk — and she was no exception. Saying that her addictions tended to “jump around,” she admitted, “I definitely think I had a sex addiction of some kind,” adding that at the time, she thought “everything could be fixed by sex.” Looking back, she said her behavior around sex gave her addiction away. “It’s not what you’re doing, but … why you’re doing it. It’s the behavior that’s attached to it. Because if you want to have a lot of sex, that’s great. But why are you having all that sex? That’s what you gotta look at.”
Describing herself as a “binger” who had “several” addictions, the star explained: “I always have to watch myself and just how I can get obsessed with things.” She also described what she called a “rock bottom” experience with alcohol.
“I was in the house by myself and I had those two bottles of wine and was going for the third bottle, and was like, ‘How, hold up. You’re in this house by yourself going onto your third bottle of wine. You might have a problem.’ So I went cold turkey.”
She contemplated suicide
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With drugs and addiction weighing so heavily on her life since childhood, Jada Pinkett Smith eventually hit an emotional low point. On another episode of Red Table Talk, she opened up about wanting to commit suicide when she was 20 years old, and how she called her mother “in a panic.”
“I had an emotional breakdown that … affected my mental stability,” she recalled. “I had gotten to L.A. and gotten a certain amount of success and realized that [it] wasn’t the answer. That [it] wasn’t what was going to make everything okay. Actually it made things worse. And I became extremely suicidal.”
The star half-joked that she didn’t know why she thought she’d be “exempt” from emotional pain once she became successful, but obviously learned the opposite. She initially managed the situation with Prozac, saying, “They had put me on it to just get me to a place where I could talk about what was happening — where I could function.” Little did she know, it would kill her sex drive, which made her quit the medication eventually. Therapy also didn’t help, forcing Pinkett Smith to forge her own path to mental health. “I had to uproot some false beliefs,” she explained. “I also had to … let go and just come to terms with what life is.”
Despite her decision to quit therapy and medication, Pinkett Smith acknowledged that for many, those treatments do work and are necessary.
If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
She cried on the way down the aisle to marry Will
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While her marriage to Will Smith has been #RelationshipGoals for so many of us, Jada Pinkett Smith admits she didn’t want to get married at first. “I went crying down the freakin’ aisle,” Pinkett Smith recalled on Red Table Talk. The Girls Trip star explained that she was three months pregnant at the time, and felt pressured to have a wedding. “My first trimester was horrible. And I was so upset that I had to have a wedding. I was so pissed.”
She also wasn’t a fan of the idea of marriage itself, saying, “I just never really agreed with the construct … I still don’t. ‘Til death do us part’ is real for me. It’s just all of the rules and all of the ideas … the accepted conventional definition of wife in the paradigm … I’m not that.”
Will and Jada prefer to call themselves life partners, rather than being married. As she told People: “I needed a different form to dissolve all the expectations that I had of a marriage. I needed to do that to see Will outside of husband and see him as a human being.”
She and Will had serious marital struggles
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Jada Pinkett Smith and Will Smith have had serious marital struggles. On another episode of Red Table Talk, Jada said that early on in their marriage, she felt she was living a life that was beautiful on the outside, but largely inauthentic. “There was so much that wasn’t me that I was living,” she recalled.
Will, who also appeared on the episode, admitted that his desire to shower her with beautiful things — including a mansion and lavish 40th birthday party — was more about his own needs than hers. “What I realized is I was building a picture,” said Will. “I grew up in a household where I was scared and watched my father beat my mother up, right? So, I was gonna build the complete opposite of that … I had a public perception that I wanted to project of our relationship.”
Jada recalled being unhappy and yet confused at the same time, since her life on the outside was picture perfect. “There were times I felt ungrateful. I thought, ‘Look at your life! How could you be so unhappy?’ I used to think I was crazy,” she said.
In the second part of the episode, Will revealed that he and Jada actually broke up, even though they never actually divorced. The couple then reconciled after Pinkett Smith says she learned to make herself happy, and Will learned to stop his ego from getting in the way of their connection.
She’s battling hair loss
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While Jada Pinkett Smith looks super stylish in headscarves, it turns out there’s a very specific reason she wears them. On — you guessed it — another Red Table Talk episode, she revealed that she’s been struggling with hair loss, and often covers her hair to hide the condition. “I was in the shower one day, and then [there was] just handfuls of hair … in my hands. I was just like, ‘Oh my god. Am I going bald?’ It was one of those times in my life where I was literally shaking with fear,” said the star.
She also revealed that her hair loss was the reason for her close-cropped, asymmetrical hairstyles. Sadly, even though she’s “gotten every kind of test there is to have,” Pinkett Smith said the reason for her hair loss remains unknown.
Later, she explained in a video on Instagram that she’s been treating her hair loss with “steroid injections,” which according to her are “helping, but not curing” it. And in the meantime, she’s counting her blessings. “I had to put it in a spiritual perspective of like, the higher power takes so much from people,” she shared on Red Table Talk, adding, “And by golly, if the higher power wants to take your hair? That’s it? … When I looked at it from that perspective, it really did settle me.”
Her daughter struggled with self-harm
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Jada Pinkett Smith was visibly shocked on Red Table Talk to hear her then-17-year-old daughter Willow’s startling revelation about engaging in self-harm. Willow said that the situation started after her single “Whip My Hair” came out when she was 10, and she felt pressured to make more music. “After the tour and the promotion and all that … they wanted me to finish my album,” she said. “I was just like, no, I’m not going to do that. And then after all of that kind of settled down … I was just listening to a lot of dark music … I was just plunged into this black hole and I was like, cutting myself.”
Willow admitted that only one friend knew she was doing it. When asked why, she replied, “I felt like I was experiencing so much emotional pain, but my physical circumstances weren’t reflecting that.” She further explained that at the time, cutting seemed to make emotional pain something you could “put your finger on, instead of being a ghost in your mind.”
Despite the shock, Jada says she doesn’t blame herself and understands why Willow didn’t tell her. As she explained to Ryan Seacrest: “We can’t be there for every dark space … and I had real understanding about that because there were a lot of dark moments in my own life I kept away from my mother because I didn’t want to burden her.”